Fortune telling has been around for centuries but it is still popular in Korea. Most people in Korea are Christian or Buddhist, but fortune-telling is still accepted in Korean culture. In fact, fortune-telling is a massive industry in Korea and is estimated to be worth $3.7 billion. Walking around entertainment districts of Seoul such as Gangnam, Hongdae, and Myeongdong, you can find and easily access fortune teller shops, booths, and cafes. The most popular types of fortune-telling in Korea are tarot cards, palm reading, physiognomy (face reading), and Saju (사주).
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Tarot card reading has been used in many cultures since the 15th century and it has become popular in Korea in the last few decades. People would bring a question to the tarot card reader to seek guidance or visit just to get a general reading of their life. I feel like it’s still popular because tarot card readers are easily accessible. You’ll find many shops, booths and cafes in entertainment districts where you simply go in and sit down to get a tarot card reading for a price as low as 10,000 won (~$12NZD).
Another fortune-telling method is palm reading which studies the palm to determine one’s life. Observing the palm’s shape, lines and length of fingers is said to determine a person’s love life, wealth, fate, marriage etc. Since palm reading is more simple compared to other fortune-telling methods, it is often seen as purely entertainment for Koreans. Physiognomy, also known as face reading, is another ancient way of determining a person’s personality or character through observing one’s facial features. It is believed that by observing the features of one’s face, you can learn the character, fate, future and fortune of the person. However, many face readers are finding their job much more difficult these days due to plastic surgery 😞 I find it interesting that there is a belief that altering one’s features will change one’s destiny and who knows, maybe that is very much true
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But Saju is the most popular form of fortune-telling in Korean culture, and it is a way to seek advice and guidance in life problems and a form of entertainment. Sa (사) meaning four and ju (주) means pillars so the word literally translates to ‘four pillars’. Each pillar represents a time, a person’s birth year, month, date, and birth time. Saju analyses the cosmic energy at the person’s time of birth, and the basis of Saju is based on these calculations. It is believed that the time of birth is the key to knowing your fate. This practice stemmed from the ancient belief that one’s life is determined by the surrounding conditions at birth, and so, the future cannot be changed, since you cannot change your time of birth. Saju is used to predict and offer insights into someone’s fate and destiny. It is also used to check people’s gunghap (궁합, compatibility) or marital compatibility.
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Many Koreans that believe in Saju visit for a reading regularly - many visiting at least once a year. Also visiting between December and February, just before the Lunar new year to see what the upcoming year has for them is regarded as very important. People would visit Saju readers to ask for advice on decisions in life, such as whether they should pursue another career, when is a good time to move, or about their love life. Saju isn’t only popular amongst people who believe in this ancient practice, but also amongst young people too. Young couples often go to check their compatibility out of curiosity, and some visit to check their marital compatibility before marriage and to see when is a good time to get married. Many visit just out of curiosity and for fun too!
Most fortune tellers in Korea cannot speak English though, so you would have to take someone who can speak Korean with you if you do visit one. But if you are curious, there are a couple of saju cafes located in the popular neighbourhoods of Seoul. Fun Saju Cafe in Hongdae and Eros Taro Cafe near Ewha Woman’s University offer interpretation services so you can give it a try and experience it for yourself!