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Korean fortune-telling: Tradition backed by statistics

December 9, 2014
(Courtesy of Ji-yun)

(Courtesy of Ji-yoon)

By Tae Hong

The most visible Korean saju consultant — yes, fortune teller — in Los Angeles is a slight woman named Ji-yoon who lives and works out of a white two-story house off a sloping Koreatown street.

She’s widely known to the Korean American community as a mainstay in town, where she’s run her business for more than 25 years offering services that include saju, known as the Four Pillars of Destiny and also practiced in Japan and China, baby name creation and love and money consultation.

About 30 newspapers around the world in the U.S., Korea, China and Canada rely on Ji-yoon for daily and monthly fortunes, booming sections that garner more consistent attention than any other column in South Korea.

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“Your good colors are white, black, gray, blue, green,” Ji-yoon tells me. “Your bad color is red. It’s not a good fit with you.”

“OK,” I say.

“As for where you’re best fit, the southwest is your best bet,” she says, making a circle with her pen on a piece of paper and pointing toward the bottom left corner. “California. More specifically, L.A. This is a good city for you.”

“How do you know that?” I ask.

“It’s like a mathematical formula,” she explains. “It’s not about guessing and making up things in your mind. There are specific rules, and I combine those rules with the experience and know-hows I’ve gathered through the years.”

Ji-yoon — her name is a business moniker, given to her a long time ago by a professor and means wise and truthful advice-giver — says she’s not so much a fortune teller as she is a life consultant. And that’s what it says on her business card: Ji-yoon Consulting.

The four pillars of destiny — year, month, day, hour — is known as saju in Korea, as ba zi in China and as syo-kan in Japan.

Saju studies and predicts a person’s destiny — more like a guideline on the road of life, Ji-yoon says — based on the values of those four components. It’s a book-based, data-based, rule-based practice, she says.

In Ji-yoon’s interpretation of Eastern philosophy, each individual is considered a small universe living within a larger universe — Earth — which has a natural cycle and flow, like the coming and going of the four seasons.

“Because we know the whole, we know the identity of each individual within that whole,” she says.

“What I do is based on academics,” she says. “I’m not like psychics or mediums who let other spirits into themselves. I can control what I do and what I say, and I can develop my skill by studying and by reading more people.”

When you ask her of thoughts on destiny, she’ll ask whether you believe that flowers bloom in the spring, that it’s hot in summer, that leaves change color in the fall, that it’s cold in winter.

“Let me put it this way: Even if you don’t like summer and don’t want it to come, it will still come and put you under its heat,” she says. “If you know it’s going to rain, don’t just wish for it not to rain. Prepare for the rain so that when it comes, you can avoid it and come out of it as though it never did rain. That’s my role.”

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Los Angeles may have seen Ji-yoon in action for close to three decades, but it was in Korea that she studied the four pillars of destiny under multiple teachers, all with their own specialties.

Saju had no place on the bookshelves of a young Ji-yoon, whose love for learning led her to study history and religion.

But she fell sick, and when Western medicine could not help her, she found a solution in Chinese medicine, brewed for her by a famed doctor.

Fueled by a fresh interest in medicine, she began taking classes under the doctor. It was there that the term “Eastern philosophy” first caught her interest — a doorway to the practice of forecasting fortunes based on ancient Chinese texts and its principles.

“Life is unknowable,” she says. “But to hear that you could know it by academic-based study? It was fascinating. I always had a greed for learning.”

Saju becomes more accurate with time and experience, she said. The more people you read, the better — and more valuable — you are.

“In academics, your skill level increases with time. It’s the same with what I do,” she said. “I’m a different person from when I had read 100 people to now, when I’ve read 10,000.”

Owning one of the longest-running saju businesses in town has its perks. She calls her decades-long experience and familarity with technology her “scarcity value” and credits it to the flood of inquiries sent to her by newspapers from around the nation and, recently, even Korea.

Those inquiries are a point of pride for Ji-yoon, who boasts Daily Fortune spots in four of Korea’s 20 top newspapers, as well as for Korean-language dailies printed in cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Atlanta and Boston, and even in countries like Canada and China.

“In Korea, most people in my field would be honored to be carried in just one top newspaper,” she said. “I’m doing four.”

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Ji-yoon takes clients inside a no-frills home office.

Instead of crystal balls or tarot cards, her desk carries the weight of a desktop computer — she does phone and web consultations — and paper and pen. There are no heavy red curtains hanging over her doorway, but there are potted plants on a side table and shelves filled with books on travel and pop song encyclopedias.

No palm readings here, folks. Only questions, numbers, pen scribblings.

The office phone goes off with an inquiry from a potential customer midway through our talk. It’s a woman on the line, and she wants to schedule a consultation for two.

Ji-yoon grabs a pen and scribbles as she shoots off a routine string of questions: “It’s $70 for one person, so that’ll be $140. … Your name? .. Mhm. … Your birth date? ’77? OK. … What time were you born? Nine? In the morning? Mhm. … Credit card number?”

The year aligns with one’s ancestors. The month? Parents. Day? A person’s partner. Hour? Children. And if those things make up the body of saju, it’s a person’s name that acts as a metaphorical outfit. (Baby name creation is in fact a popular business in South Korea. Ji-yoon, of course, also does baby names.)

Saju has long been a part of Korean culture.

The history of saju goes back hundreds of years, where the nobility and ruling class relied on its predictions, most notably, to choose optimal times to conceive healthy, well-rounded babies by calculating the flow of nature in the moment of conception.

Online, saju is available on a variety of free and paid websites, where one tells me I’m “likely to run into financial trouble in my middle-age years if I’m not careful to curb my impulses” but where another says I “will prosper and ascend the corporate ladder quickly in later years.”

Ji-yoon, who says her saju is much more detailed, has a binder filled with newspaper and online print-outs of her correct predictions on events ranging from 9/11 to Obama’s presidential election.

Events, the good or bad fortune associated with particular addresses for homes or businesses, the best time to wage war, the best time to take an important test — these are all things predictable and readable by saju, she says.

Eighty percent of her clients are those who have come back more than 10 times and range from struggling students to big-money businessmen to worried mothers looking for answers to their childrens’ paths.

“Imagine you’ve been thrown into the wild. In life, there are no signs, no navigation,” she says. “Is it better to have a local guide or to wander without one? I’m the guide, a sign, in that wilderness.”

15 Comments

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  3. JayK

    December 15, 2014 at 2:46 AM

    How to get in touch with her for a consultation?

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  5. lia

    March 16, 2015 at 8:49 PM

    How much is the charge?

  6. GK

    September 14, 2015 at 12:26 AM

    I would like to get in touch with her. What is the best way? Please let me know.

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  8. Michelle

    March 10, 2016 at 3:57 PM

    Would like to go see her. Need info. Thank you

  9. JH

    October 15, 2016 at 12:09 AM

    Hi, did anyone ever get contact / location information for Ji-yoon?

  10. Patty

    October 15, 2016 at 9:51 PM

    Please advice, contact information I would like to see her

  11. AC

    November 24, 2016 at 2:06 PM

    Can somebody provide me her contact information?

  12. barno

    December 3, 2016 at 9:27 PM

    contact info for Ji yoon please.

  13. CS

    June 21, 2017 at 6:31 AM

    I would like to talk to you about linking this story in an educational program for adults. Students would click on a link and be led to this page. Please email me about who I need to talk to in order to receive permission for this. Thank you!

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