(Indulge me today.  It's my birthday...)


Every now and again, something so silly comes across my plate that my mind begins to connect the dots, and an essay out of nowhere starts knitting itself.    

This morning, and every morning, minutes before my favorite TV Wide Show "Toku Da Ne" (8AM-10AM weekdays) begins, there is a little segment for all the housewives--the "uranai corner" (your fortune for the day--which, just in case you don't catch it at 7:58, there's yet another one at the end of Toku Da Ne for good measure).

The prognostication is very thorough.  Each sign of the zodiac is appraised with a ranking for the day, with best, the five luckies in descending order (I came in second today), the five unluckies, and the unluckiest (cue visual with sobbing-with-a-smile ingenue bearing umbrella and stamping her feet in the rain) with an apology from the announcer for causing any inconvenience...  

But take heart... at the very very very end, for those star-crossed people, there is a "lucky menu".  And this morning, it was ebi mayo sausu (shrimp in mayonnaise sauce).

And that's what caused this essay to start knitting through my morning shower...


Call me a man with too much time on my hands, but how the blazes did they come up with that?  Do those people who make a living checking the astrology charts (yes, some people do) actually find a reading in the stars involving crustaceans and egg curd?  I doubt any of The Oracles of old would have come near mayonnaise even if under threat of lightning bolt from Zeus or Apollo!  Not to mention domestic gods like Amatarasu Ohmikami or Sugawara Michizane, who I doubt are the culinary culture vultures of today's Japan.

Put that down, said my addled brain under shampooed pate, to the odd use of the scientific method over here.

This is a society that finds you marriage partners based upon your blood type or favorite color (many people actually believe that something as simple as 4 types x Rh plus or minus has some bearing on your personality!).  Where all sorts of snake oil can be sold or broadcast as long as there is some element of fun or a knowing wink.  I'm sure everyone has a favorite collection of stupefyingly unscientific oddities.  Here are some of mine:

Pet bottles full of water placed around your garden will curtail crapping cats.  People with different eye colors (of course, applied only to Westerners) see colors differently than us brown-eyed Asians.  Certain soaps remove body fat and will make you slimmer.  Pregnant women shouldn't eat invertebrates (such as squid or octopus) because it will bear you a boneless baby.  Eating at McDonalds (according to Fujita Den, former CEO) will make your legs longer and your body more Western (I'll agree with the second bit).  Sleeping without panties on increases fertility (it certainly might increase the likelihood!).  And way back when, a golf course invoked the probable anger of the gods when barring women from becoming members (I guess the local kamisama around the thirteenth hole like a few rounds without any miniskirted distractions...).

Of course, pseudoscience is part of every society.  Seances, palmistry, tarot, even phrenology became pretty elaborate and avidly followed, and after enough parlor tricks they inspired whole literary genres.  However, these days they are generally passed off as humbugs, quackery, or mere Victorian-Era quirks.  Here, however, how can the media get this stuff past their editors in this modern society?

Then again, we just got through a peak season of superstition--New Years--where people line up for hours and throw coins at groaning shrine boxes for luck; even buy 100 yen or more omikuji fortune-telling papers just to see what their chances for love, riches, health, et cetera are for the coming year (it's, again, very elaborately categorized and detailed in description).   For your hard-earned coin, you get your "luckiness" headline--Daikichi, Chuukichi, Shoukichi, Suekichi, Kichi, Kyou (I've probably forgotten one or two rankings; except for top and bottom, nobody seems to know what the order is!).   If you don't like what fortune you get (or even if you do), you tie it up on ropes around the shrine and quickly forget everything but the headline.  Perfect lack of accountability.  Moreover, if you get the unluckiest ranking (Kyou), it's unusual enough to mean you're actually lucky!  In other words, the whole process is completely meaningless!  So why do people buy these here omikuji?  Amused curiosity, probably.  I admit I have bought them too, every year without fail, since I came to Japan...

So anyway, returning to the shrimp a la mayonnaise, what happened here?  

Did the seafood lobby do some major payola (like the record companies arranging for the latest Amuro Namie track to be on in the background of junk-food news), to increase shrimp sales for the day?  (I can think of lots of puns on the word "uranai" here...)  Or is that knowing smile on the Cupie mayonnaise figurines due to something we don't know?  (Having to strut around naked like that all the time demonstrates that ambitious people in the entertainment business make a lot of sacrifices...)

Believe it or not, this is a serious question.  My Friends' List is very eclectic, and I know at least one person (you know who you are, XX) who has a wife in the uranai business.  Any theories on how we came up with a "lucky menu" which included thoroughly modern ingredients??

Arudou Debito in Sapporo
January 13, 2006 (Friday the 13th)

(NB:  It's just so happened I've turned 41--a yakudoshi for me and everyone else my age--a whole stripe of the population bell-curve doomed to failure; gotta go to the temple mount and get the bad-luck humors waived away.)


My wife in the business says that the people who provide that information to the TV programs are contract "soothsayers" (for lack of any better word), and the so-called "lucky menu" part is one type of invention by them. Once it was introduced, all of the others jumped on the bandwagon because not one of these "phonies" (the wife's word, not mine) will give any bad news without allowing for a "way out" of the problem. Angry/worried viewers mean less customers and poor ratings.

According to my personal knows-all-and-sees-all, it is more appropriate to identify a proper talisman such as a particular rock, or in some cases flower or plant, which will assist in eliminating the bad-- whatever you call it--luck, vibes???

Also, for good luck, just travel in a particular direction to a location which is more conducive to good luck or fortune. You don't have to do anything, just travel to some location that you would like to see along the coordinates provided and you'll be fine. This is a lot like the oriental custom of seeking to layout the house in specific directions with the furniture placed in set directions of the compass and so forth.

If you're asking me to explain it, forget it.  However, I'm sure my wife will give you a meeting for the appropriate price. I'm afraid to have one myself, just in case she can see things like my girl friend, bar tabs, etc. ;-)

But back to the original question! She doesn't think the menu thing has any meaning. But then again, what Japanese do you know who is unaware that you must eat toshikoshi soba at New Years for luck?

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Portions Copyright 2006, Arudou Debito, Sapporo, Japan