Divining a Bright Future for Fortunetelling

    February 02, 2006 18:22

    Fortunetellers and horoscope cafes have started crowding in on Rodeo Street in Apgujeong-dong, Seoul’s hottest fashion street better known for luring young Korean fashion victims with its brand shops and restaurants, transforming it into a kind of Crystal Ball Valley. Practitioners use the whole battery of implements, from Tarot cards to bamboo sticks. One icy cold morning recently, a long line of people waited in front of fortune-telling shop Struck with Luck to hear what the New Year has in store for them.

    But questions are not what they used to be, with a man in his 40s asking, “I’d like to buy some stocks from company H. Should I buy now?” The fortuneteller replies, “Too late, you should have bought in November. Wait till next March and sell in November. You’ll make some money.” Giving a whole new meaning to the term “financial wizard,” Kim Hyeon-jeong says her customers are mostly interested in making money and ask about stocks and real estate.

    In an age of information and science, fortune-telling not only survives but has evolved into a huge industry. With growth comes specialization, and there are now diviners concentrating on financing or college entrance exams, marriage or promotion at work. Indeed, only fortunetellers seem to have had the foresight that allowed them to grow their business even as other industries shrank. Online, fortune-telling sites are the biggest money-spinners after gaming sites. SK Telecom’s fortune-telling service saw sales grow 40 percent since last year.

    Around 450,000 fortunetellers and shamans ply their trade across the country, with the industry estimated to be worth some W2 trillion(US$2 billion), nearly the same as the movie industry, which recorded W2.3 trillion in 2004. The market, too, is newly diverse. Once mainly the domain of housewives and public servants, the vagaries of the future now interest college students, office workers and professionals. Seong Hye-ji (25), a university official, has a lucky charm downloaded from a website on her cell phone. Auspiciously red writing on a yellow background is supposed to help her find a boyfriend.

    Among the 150 fortune-telling sites that exist, www.sazoo.com is a thoroughly modern corporation, with overseas expansion as a key goal for 2006. The site is planning to introduce its most popular items -- cyber lucky charms and Lotto fortunes -- in Japan and China. Offline, Sazoo is to build a fortune shopping mall in Seoul. With sales of W5 billion this year under its belt, the company aims at W9 billion and a listing on the Kosdaq next year.

    Where there is successful innovation, the big players will move in for their share, and thus superstores like E-Mart and movie theater chain CGV have one or two Tarot card readers on their premises. As for the reason for the boom, it does not take special powers of divination to see the logic in what Prof. Kim Jeong-un of Myongji University says: “People tend to find comfort in fortune-telling to overcome their growing anxiety about the future.”

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