Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
Research Centre for East Asian Studies Groningen Blogs and Postcards

Tarot and fortune telling: a trend for young couples in South Korea?

Kayleigh Gwen Kingma
Kingma

During the heat of this summer, I found myself in the Southern city of Busan, South Korea. Because of my interest in Korean culture and language, it was the perfect opportunity for me to attend the Summer School at Pusan National University. Since my major is Religious Studies, I have the tendency to look at a country from an anthropological point of view and I like to focus on its religions and old traditions. Why are the people the way they are and what makes them act in the way they do? I will always look at their religions and beliefs to find the underlying reasons for their behavior and ways of life.

When you look at the religious landscape of South Korea, you will find that it is very diverse, having religions from both Asian traditions as well as Western traditions. You will find a big group of Buddhists, apparent from the many temples in the mountains (Bulguksa temple situated at the coastline of Busan is probably the most beautiful Buddhist temple in Korea). But you will also be surprised to find a large group of Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, who have set up many churches around the country as well as the famous megachurches. Confucianism, not by all considered a religion, has a long tradition in Korea and can be found in its hierarchical system as well as in many rituals that are still performed today.

The fact that Korea s religious landscape has changed a lot overtime, is apparent from the many religions you can find there as well as the considerable growth of the amount of traditions. But then the question arises: what do people believe in South Korea nowadays? Can you say that they are Christian, considering the growing number of Protestants in the 21st century? Or is there still a part of them that believes in Korea s folklore and old traditions, the stories and myths that their grandmother has told them when they were a little child?

During my time at Pusan National University s Summer School we did many interesting fieldtrips, such as going to the historical site of Gyeongju and watching a traditional play in the theatre. There were many obvious portrayals of religion, mostly seen in the architecture of buildings or paintings on the wall. One day we were walking back to our campus from one of our fieldtrips and I noticed a shop across the street with a sign above the door that I had seen and noticed before. It said 타로 or tarot and had a picture of a tarot card on the door. It was one of those fancy tarot cards that I had often seen in the West and was quite familiar with, but seeing it in this Asian setting made me quite curious. Was this a place where they did astrology and tarot card reading like they do it in the West or was there a whole different tradition attached to it that I was not aware of? I asked one of our Korean buddies, the ones that guided us through our stay in South Korea and at the Summer School, and he told me that it was indeed a tarot card reading shop as well as a fortune telling shop. Now fortune telling is something that is not unknown in the west, but it is not common for the regular citizen to visit a fortune teller and have their future predicted. If it is done, it is done in secret and those who are openly speaking about it are often considered foolish or superstitious. However, in the tarot card shops, or the little tents out on the streets with a tarot sign on it, I saw many young couples consulting a fortune teller. I was surprised by the amount of people I saw there and how young they were. When I asked my Korean buddy about it, he informed me that many young new couples go to a fortune teller to inquire about the future of their relationship. How long will the relationship last and will they have children? He told me that even he went to a fortune telling shop once! Apparently, it was quite common to do this if you were recently in a new relationship. Considering the couple culture that South Korea has (you will see many couples out on the street, often recognized by their matching outfits) I suddenly understood why so many of these couples visit tarot card shops.

South Korea is a vast rising country with many technological changes in the last few decades making it one of the economic world powers in the 21st century. But despite all these changes, a Korean culture with strong traditions is maintained, which can be seen if you look at the core of Korean culture: their work ethic, family life and their personal ideals. If you get a job at Samsung and if you marry into a good and well-off family you will have made it in Korean society as a successful Korean citizen and can be assured of a more comfortable life within this society. A vital aspect of that is dating and marrying the right partner and any reassurance of having chosen the right partner is welcomed. Things like knowing your partner is from a well-off family, has studied at one of the SKY universities (Seoul National University, Korea University and Yonsei University) or is going to work at a big company are good things to know. Koreans like having this reassurance which is reflected in their well-structured culture, but when it comes to having a good relationship you will have to have trust and a little faith. In those areas where they do not seem to have any control they will find their solace in their beliefs, which can come in many forms and shapes, even in the shape of Tarot card reading shops, or in a small fortune telling tent at the sidewalk of a shopping street.

Last modified:04 October 2019 11.06 a.m.