The Japanese fortune-telling that uses mold to predict your future

Translation by Saori Morita

Whether 2017 was a fantastic year or not, we’re all likely curious about our fortunes for 2018. While I'm an editor/writer, I also have a deep interest in divination, which makes me all the more sensitive about luck and fate. But even though we go and get our fortunes told in anticipation good tidings, what if something terrible is predicted to happen in our future? We may then turn to other omens, even if they’re foul--literally.

Moldy Rice Gruel = Good Omen?

Yes — there is such thing as divination with rice gruel. It's often known as kayu-ura (taken from the words okayu/rice gruel and uranai/fortune-telling), and it is practiced in various regions throughout Japan.

But one kind of rice gruel divination, widely practiced between January 15th to March 15th, is said to foretell whether or not it is likely that a natural disaster — such as earthquakes, fires, and water-related disasters — will occur in the upcoming year.

In the northern Kyushu region where rice production is abundant, kayu-ura is also prevalent. We asked Kaido Shrine in Saga Prefecture, where they are known for their kayu-ura, about this kind of fortune-telling.

"At Kaido Shrine, we give rice as an offering during New Year's and cook it on February 15th. We then place the cooked rice in front of the Shinto gods in the main shrine and leave it for another month. Finally, on March 15th, we predict the events of the upcoming year from the way the mold has spread over the gruel."

Here are some examples of past "mold readings."



"Overall, the result is kichi (blessing), and it will be a tranquil year. There will be few disasters caused by fire and accidents. However, there is a possibility of heavy rain and water-related calamities so beware. Fortunes for agriculture and the fishing industry are 'average.'" (Kaido Shrine)




"Overall, the year is predicted to be ‘slightly bad' and tumultuous. There are signs of possible fires and natural disasters. Similarly, fortunes for agriculture and the fishing industry are ‘slightly bad.'"

While us laypeople probably just see mold, the priests can read what kind of disasters the year beholds from the bowl of rice gruel.

Various styles of rice gruel reading

Not all mold fortunes are the same, and depending on the shrine the way they perform their readings varies. For example:

・Place a stick inside the cooked rice and mix. Decipher the reading from the number of rice grains left on the stick.

・Cook thin bamboo sticks with the rice in a pot. After the contents of the pot are cooked, crack open the bamboo sticks. The number of rice grains found inside them will reveal the fortune.

・Leave the rice gruel for a few days. Read the fortune from the mold that grows on its surface.

This might all sound like some kind of witchy, voodoo magic, but it shows that Japanese Shinto priests have some intriguing rituals. When we asked the priest of Kaido Shrine how they read the mold in the gruel, he replied, "We have a secret way of doing so that has been passed down through the generations. Unfortunately, I can't reveal the details." Our guess is that they consider the size, color, and where the mold grows to conduct their readings. All this new knowledge is making us mystically and intellectually stimulated.

But...why rice gruel?


Rice gruel divination has a long history dating back 1200 years, and becoming popular especially in the Kyushu region. At Chiriku Hachiman Shrine in Saga Prefecture, where they are known for holding one of Japan's three major gruel festivals, they do divinations first by crossing two chopsticks over a bowl of gruel. Then, they read the surface of the gruel as if it were the map of the local region, and decipher future events of the various areas. Kaido Shrine does their readings in a similar way. Suwa Grand Shrine in Nagano Prefecture, Izumodai Jingū Shrine in Kyoto Prefecture, and Hiraoka Shrine in Osaka Prefecture also practice rice gruel divination.

But why rice gruel? Though we can't say for sure, rice and rice gruel have been considered holy since ancient times, and it might be that they are believed to possess spiritual powers. Still, it seems like if you approach a shrine with respect and a rice porridge offering for the deities, the Shinto gods will answer with some kind of a message. Besides rice gruel, Moro Shrine in Chiba Prefecture has the tradition of divining with mochi.

Accuracy is not the most important part of divination

But even if a respectable priest predicts the natural disasters that may occur during any given year, what will happen in nature is far beyond human knowledge, and there's really nothing we can do. Still, if a divination gives us a heads up, we might be able to work to minimize casualties for when a disaster does hit.

In fact, this is the true essence of divination. If you are told that 2018 will be a difficult year career-wise, you might decide to play it safe for a while. Though you might be considering starting a new business endeavor, you might spend the year carefully planning before launching the next year. This way, you'll be able to live your life while still considering what the reading reveals.

Like there are four seasons in Japan, there are four seasons to our fortune. There are good times and bad times. It's safe to say that the point of divining our future is to predict possible hardships in order to minimize their negative effect on our lives.

Photo by Miyaki-cho Tourism Association
Interview Cooperation: Kaido Shrine, Miyaki-cho Tourism Association
Eating the best chicken I've ever had at Sumibiyaki Sankuu
The person who showed me around Nichinan (a small city on the coast of Miyazaki Prefecture, Kyushu) told me two intimidating details about the rest...
Udo Jingu, one of three rare descending Shinto shrines
While gazing at the Pacific I walk through a cave, eventually reaching the vivid vermilion shrine. For my wishes to be granted, I throw undama (sto...
10 popular spots in Japan's "gateway to the tropics"
Once upon a time, Miyazaki Prefecture was a popular honeymoon destination. Beginning in the 1960s, scores of couples made it their place to visit f...
Future of Airbnb in Japan: Growth and navigating through murky residence lodging laws
Last year the Japanese parliament passed a law giving an official green light to Airbnb’s business model, albeit with restrictions. Taking effect t...
6 stunning vacation rental homes across Japan
We all have our idiosyncracies and preferences when traveling. Some like to focus on the journey as opposed to the destination, others relish a lux...
5 delicious sweets made from Kanoya’s acclaimed Beni Haruka sweet potatoes
Kagoshima Prefecture, located at the southern-most tip of Kyushu, ranks as the top producer of sweet potatoes in Japan. In Kagoshima, they find a w...
Tourists spots for foreigners that are too obscure for Japanese
TripAdvisor, one of the most major review aggregators for travelers, has recently announced its rankings for the most popular tourist sites in Japa...
Testing $70 vs $1 nail clippers: The obsessive dedication behind hand-crafted Suwada steel (video)
There’s a Japanese word for demand and passion for excellence that lacks a direct English translation—kodawari. While a difficult word to accuratel...
Finding a cool hangout cafe in the most unexpected of places in Okinawa
Chatan is a town that sounds almost as alien to the ears of Japanese as it is to foreigners, since the “cha” and “tan” come from irregular pronunci...
One social media post, one ton of citrus sold--Nichinan's sweet lemons
When thinking of food that goes viral, you tend to imagine the colurful, lavish or outlandish--like a Unicorn Frappucino. A social media initiative...
For the best seafood when traveling, head to the local fish market
In Nichinan city of Miyazaki Prefecture--famous for its pole-caught katsuo (bonito)--there are any number of spots where you can find great seafood...
35,000 candles light up one of Japan's most luminous festivals
While the memories from the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011 were still fresh, in April 2016 a magnitude 7.1 earthquake struck right beneath the cit...
Abandoned factories in Sado look fit for a Bond villain lair
Sado Island is one of the hidden tourist gem spots in Japan that is unknown even to most Japanese. While having a rich history that includes being ...
9 fine shaved ice to cool down for the summer
Japan is well-known for its dreaded heatwave during the summer, and one of the traditional ways to cool off is to have freshly shaved ice. It used ...
Pansy Jeans, the artificial denim jeans that don't fade
Denim jeans are an integral part of contemporary style--it's simple to coordinate, durable, and suitable for almost any occasion (especially after ...
74-year-old bakery that makes lines out the door selling loaf bread
The Pelican bakery has a simple and direct philosophy. "If you have 10 different abilities, it’s better to just commit to one than to create 100 ot...
Kinichi Soba takes Okinawa soba to the next level with "raw noodles"
Ramen, udon, soba are noodle staples for Japanese cuisine, but Okinawa soba has a unique historical background and flavor all its own. Using thicke...
Tokyo gift shop showcases unique local goods from all 47 Japanese prefectures
Even if you’ve been to mega malls around the world, the scope and number of department complexes in Shibuya, Tokyo is staggering—you have the two T...
Book Lab Tokyo cafe provides a recharge, refuge from the mayhem at Shibuya scramble
There’s no shortage of shops or cafes in the heart of Shibuya, but one surprisingly difficult commodity to find is a reprieve—a quiet, comfortable ...
The hidden beauty of Okinawa’s waterfalls
If there’s one leisure locale you can associate with Okinawa, it’s the island’s sandy white beaches. But not commonly known by outsiders is its lus...