Divination (占)

I had only been in Japan for nine months and had recently broke up with my long-term American girlfriend.  It was my birthday and I was pretty much alone in Japan: No girlfriend, no close friends, and no neighbors I knew because I just move into a new apartment.  Further, my Japanese was terrible.  So I went out to celebrate my birthday alone — first time in decades.

I sat by myself at the bar at Studio 54 on Karasuma-dori in Kyoto. A Japanese guy came and sat next to me and soon after, struck up a conversation to practice his English. “Harro ! I am Jiro” he said, in the same drone I had heard hundreds of times before.

“Hi”, I replied curtly, not excited to have yet another generic conversation on this evening. “What is your blood type?” was his next surprising question.

I would run into that question several times in the coming months before I actually made an effort to understand the reason for the question.  Other intro questions common to Japanese in a bar had been: “Nice weather, eh?” or “The Sumo match tonight sucked, didn’t it ?”  I was to find out that this question was like an American asking “What is your [astrological] sign?” as a way to share a conversation about each other’s personality types.

“Urani”, in Japanese, means “divination” but it is broader — it refers of ways to obtain information beyond the obvious means of the vehicle of inspection.  Here are some examples.

  • 手相占い  – Palmistry
  • 人相占い  – Body-Shape Divination
  • 血液型占い – Blood-Type Divination
  • 夢占い    – Dream Divination
  • 風水      – FengSui (arranging our environment to maximize fortune)

The character used is: 占  which is composed of the top pare: 卜 (which is the divination rod, and actually means the same) plus the bottom part: which means “mouth” –> Speaking what is divined.

Back to the chap at the bar:  He was trying to open a conversation about “blood-type divination” which neatly divides all people into 4 convenient personality types: A, B, AB, and O types.  I actually just found a fun blog post that explains it well — see Maggie Sensei’s cute post.

Well, back to my conversation with that Japanese guy at the bar:  “I am A-type”. I told the stranger. “Naruhoodoo (I get it).  Yappari (as I expected).” he replied showing that we had already exceeded his English. The conversation died because neither of us spoke the other’s language well enough and I went back to my beer.  The night ended lonelier than it began.

Every country loves divination — and the simpler, the better. Superficial Western Astrology types divide the world into 12 personality types — all the people born in March, for example, have the same personality.  Some Americans will use this newspaper-column astrology mentality to start a conversation about personalities — well, only if they feel their sign matches their personality.

Real Astrologists of course claim that at minimum, in addition to the sun sign (available by just knowing the date of birth) they need to the rising sign and the houses of all the planets for which you need the time of birth.  Without that, a real Astrologist would say, you can’t even begin to really understand a person’s personality and the how to help navigate the future to increase fortune. Never mind that all research shows that is bunk.

So, on-the-street astrology of friends who read the newspaper astrology columns divide people into only 12 types — essentially, people born in the same month have the same personality.  Yeah, right!  But if you think that is audacious, the on-the-street astrology in China sees everyone born in the same year as having the same personality!  They have 12 year cycles with each year given an animal name: 12 Animals, 12 personalities.  They have a more elaborate model with 5 elements and thus 5 X 12 = 60 personality types.  But it is a similar easy way to divide make personalities easy to talk about.

On an important side note: In Chinese astrology, girls born in the year of the “Fire Horse” are suppose to become rebellious, proud women which are hard to marry off.  Consequently, Chinese history is full of stories of infanticide of girls born in that year.  Ouch!  False beliefs can have horrible consequences.

Are there Scientific ways to categorize personalities?   “Science” enters and we have the dearly loved MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) — a personality test revealing 16 types of people on the planet. It was all the fad of the administrators at the State University where I was a graduate school professor. And when I questioned the sacred cow of these academics, I met with no small disdain. Read this Wiki article and be sure to read the “Reliability” section.

Humans love “urani” (divination).  We all want to know all about ourselves and others.  We all want to gain fortune and avoid misfortune if possible.  It is no wonder such a huge number of systems evolved.


Filed under Events, Philosophy & Religion

4 responses to “Divination (占)

  1. CRL

    I just find it funny how inaccurate these things are, as well as the generalities used to make sure that they apply to everyone.

    An example: “As the fourth sign of the zodiac, the Cancer individual is a deeply emotional person inside, but is smooth and confident on the outside. Their first love is of home and family …Cancer is strongly rooted and often thinks of the past, holding onto mementos and thinking about his childhood… When hurt or disappointed, Cancer will retreat completely into his shell and become unreachable for a period of time. Cancer is generous and kind to others, but will cautiously wait when he confronts a problem to make sure that he doesn’t waste valuable resources. In the end, he will come through and help generously if no other option presents itself. From: “Mystical Blaze

    While there is most likely no one person who fits such a description in it’s entirety, it describes some aspects of every person.

  2. @ CRL

    I totally agree. I’ve seen it time and again.
    Pew report says 1/4 Americans believe this garbage!

  3. frank

    On astrology the author writes, “Never mind that all research shows that it is bunk.” Really? If you had bothered to read the research you would find, on the contrary, that there is a body of research, some done by astrophysicists like Dr. Percy Seymour, that show the merits of astrology.

  4. Hey Frank (curious how you found this post),

    I found a Guardian article on Percy Seymour:

    And here are some quotes the article that I see as pertinent and which I would imagine you would dismiss. I won’t be arguing Astrology on this thread however, btw. But all to say, The vast majority of credible research disagrees with the value of astrology.

    …the former Plymouth University astronomy lecturer, and member of the Royal Astronomical Society, argues that, while he does not believe in horoscopes, the movement of the sun, moon and various planets undoubtedly hold an influence over us.

    “All I can say is that I have yet to meet another scientist that agrees with his views,” says Jacqueline Mitton of the Royal Astonomical Society. “It’s right up there with stuff like crop circles being made by extra-terrestrials,” says Robert Massey, astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where Seymour worked as a planetarium lecturer in the early 70s.

    Seymour’s book is just the latest salvo in an ongoing battle that pits the vast majority of scientists, on one side, against the substantially fewer (but better paid) astrologists on the other. Most scientists are happy not to bother with research into astrology; to them astrology is among the worst manifestations of pseudoscience, worthy of as little intellectual expenditure as homeopathy.

    Michel Gauquelin started the ball rolling in earnest with his 1955 study of the so-called Mars effect. Put simply, it states that Mars is more likely to be in certain parts of the sky when top sports stars are born. The study caused a predictable furore, but did not stand up to the barrage of criticism that followed. “It was held up as a success for astrology, but when the results were looked at in close detail, and when the experiment was repeated, it fell apart,” says Massey.

    While Seymour is widely seen as a scientist who has joined the defence of the astrologers, it was an ex-astrologer who helped deliver the most signifiant blow to the credibility of his former profession. Last year, Geoffrey Dean, who left astrology to become a scientist in Perth, carried out what is probably the most robust scientific investigation into astrology ever undertaken. He led a study of 2,000 people, most born within minutes of one another, and looked at more than 100 different characteristics, ranging from IQ to ability in art and sport, from anxiety levels to sociability and occupation – all of which astrologers claim are influenced by heavenly bodies. He found no evidence of the similarities that astrologers would have predicted.

    The popularity of astrology, is to some at least, driven by a need for a substitute for religion, a desire to believe that life is reassuringly out of one’s hands. “When you have the decline of organised religion in the conventional sense, you get people looking for other things, whether it’s Californian crystals or a daily horoscope. It provides some kind of psychological prop. I have no wish to suppress it, I just don’t think it’s a useful way of interpreting the world,” says Massey.

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