Give a hand…

Tokyo Life - May 1st, 1992
tokyoweekender_Masahito Koishikawa

by James Hale
Photos courtesy of Masahito Koishikawa

Ginza’s Bilingual Fortune Teller

Universally, people are curi­ous about or sometimes obsessed with their future, wanting desperately to know what is going to transpire in years to come. Masahito Koishikawa, 44, is said to be the only bilingual (Japanese/English) fortune teller in Tokyo and has been practicing his craft for seven years. His exper­tise lies in palmistry, but he’s also adept in astrological readings (based on birth dates) and the I-Ching. Every night, six days a week, he sees on the average of 35 clients.

A philosopher by day who is writing books about this subject, Koishikawa makes his living by palmistry. Born in Tokyo, he went to Waseda University and, through that institution, studied in the United States at Kalamazoo Col­lege in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for four and a half years, majoring in philoso­phy. “When I came back to Japan after my studies were completed, I taught Japanese to foreigners for a while and, after I left teaching, started my for­tune-telling business,” he says.

His interest in the subject began when he was in junior high school. “I bought this book about face reading and that was the starting point. It’s difficult to perceive face reading from a book, but I could, and gradu­ally developed my sensitivity and intuition through the book,” Koishikawa recalls. He explains that face reading is a type of fortune telling which utilizes a person’s facial patterns and structure, even teeth, to deter­mine personality.  Subsequently, an interest in palmistry was stirred. Again, he began to read many books on the subject in order to understand what it was all about. “I also went to see a very famous palm reader (Kadowaki Shohei) several times. I listened and watched carefully to what he said about my own palms,” Koishikawa says. “Most of the knowledge I gained was from his books.”

There are several types of fortune telling, including palm­istry, Tarot cards and I-Ching. Are all of these used to fore­cast future happenings? “These practices are used to do that and describe a person’s personality,” Koishikawa answers. “When I do a reading, the first thing I do is talk about the person’s personality to establish credibility and trust with my client. By doing this, they will be more open fo what I have to tell them. After that, I begin to tell them about their future. I find this procedure to be the most effective.”

When asked about the history of palmistry in Japan, Koishikawa explained that it has existed in Japan since the Edo era. “During that time, I-Ching practice was popular and palm readings were done at the same rime. In those days, palmistry was Oriental-style; these days, palm read­ings are more Western-style. The difference in the two is that Western style reading is more clearly defined in division of years while Oriental is not. Oriental reading tells more about a person’s characteristics, and the good and bad symp­toms (health and fate).”

Tokyo has an abundance of fortune tellers who set up shop at night in busy areas such as Ueno, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ginza, but even lesser populated areas have them. Very often the stands are set up in obvious areas, i.e., near a sub­way or station entrance, to get clients on their way home. “Most of these people read palms, but some emphasize as­trology and I-Ching,” Koishikawa states.

Palmistry involves reading lines on the hands. Are some lines the same for all of us? “The four basic lines are these: the life line, the intellectual line (or head line), the emotional line (heart line) and the fate line. The other lines (called secondary lines) I read are different, depending on the per­son,” Koishikawa answers. “Women usually have more lines than men do, although I have come across some women who don’t. It’s an individual thing.”

“The more information (lines) I have, the easier it is to un­derstand the person. If s a process of deciphering,” he continues. “From your adolescence to the time you are around 23, more lines appear. After that, it’s a very gradual development. I can read a child’s hand, but you must realize that after the age of 10, a child’s hand changes a lot The prediction one would give a child is nearly meaningless. If s better not to say anything about someone so young because it may not be accurate.”

Regarding hands of different races and nationalities, Koishikawa says “Japanese (or Orientals) and Caucasians are similar, but some people from Arabic countries don’t have enough lines. They possess just three or four strong lines and that’s it! How can I tell them anything? You need secondary lines to do that,” he laughs.

In Tokyo alone, there are scores of practicing fortune tellers, yet there are only five or six who are considered very popular and Koishikawa is one of them. Although he had originally planned to do this kind of work for only one year, he works at the Ginza every day except Sunday and charges ¥3,000 for a reading. He begins working at 7:30 p.m. and finishes by 11:30. His clients have already started lining up by 5 and a person arriving at 5:15 could feasibly be number 6 or 7 in the line that won’t begin moving until Koishikawa arrives at 7:30. By then, mere will be around 30 people waiting.

“I chose to set up my booth in Ginza because there were many foreigners there and I wanted to give readings in En­glish,” Koishikawa says. “It was not an easy thing to do because you have to get permission from the yakuza in charge of the area. Once you get the green light, you can begin your work as long as you pay rent for the privilege of being there. This rent also indudes protection and it’s common practice in Japan. Anyone setting up a street booth must follow the same procedure.”

“Initially, half of my clients were foreigners; these days most of them are Japanese,” he continues. “When I was first starting out, I didn’t have such a long line of waiting custom­ers and foreigners often stopped by for a reading. As my reputation grew, so did the line. The clients who come back usually do so after two or six months. Occasionally, someone will tell me they’ve been to see me before, but I can’t remem­ber them because I see about 35 people per night times six nights a week. Sometimes 50 people wait, but they have to leave in order to catch the last train I really am exhausted by the end of the evening since I allot seven to ten minutes for each client. If I am very quick, I can do a reading in five minutes.”

A time of decision-making plays an important part in whether a client will consult Koishikawa. “They often ask me, ‘Should I go abroad or stay here?’ This is a common type of question nowadays. I usually tell them to go overseas because that would be a good experience for them. I advise them and my advice is not necessarily based on what I see in the hand. Some people hesitate to take the big step them­selves and need someone to give them the push.”

To see Koishikawa, take exit A9 at Ginza Station (the address is Ginza 4-chome near the Toyo Shintaku Bank) and you’ll recognize him by the sign “Bilingual Palm Readings.” Either go early and line up or go sometime in the evening and be prepared to wait.