Tarot shops are as ubiquitous as cafés in modern South Korea. Rooftop on the Hanok recently interviewed a professional tarot reader to get a closer look at the life of a South Korean tarot reader and to get some insights into the tarot culture. Jinha Lim currently works as a tarot reader in Seoul, South Korea. She shared her views on tarot, tarot clients, and life as a fortune teller.
Rooftop on the Hanok(RH): How did you come to learn about tarot?
Jinha Lim(JL): When I was little, I didn’t have friends. I was disappointed with the people around and wasn’t interested in getting to know strangers so books were my friends. There were one to two books about fortune telling in my home. They were not special books, but I liked them. I had a good imagination. I learned about tarot when I was a teenager in high school from the Internet.
I liked to visit a spiritual shop at Jongno. They sold tarot cards, pendulums, crystals, spiritual books, and other stuff. I decided to buy my first deck of tarot cards. It was the universal Waite deck. Actually, I don’t have the deck anymore. I bought the Waite deck even though I was more interested in Russian gypsy cards. The gypsy card book made more sense. Korea didn’t have much information about tarot in those days. It must have been about 2002. Some people are surprised to hear but I didn’t take any special class to do tarot. I did spreads and took notes. Then I checked what kinds of things I experienced. Sometimes I think about how good the environment is these days. Everybody can find information about tarot and lots of people have developed classes on how to read or use tarot cards.
RH: How did tarot become your career?
JL: I was really tired of working in the Korean office culture. Such as using photoshop, illustration, flash, html, customer service center, sales, telephone consultation, and so on. There was always overtime work and much of it was unpaid. There was no gratitude and low pay. I left my last normal job in fall 2012. I thought of trying to get some kind of special job. But I had no idea how to do it. Eventually, I started to work part time as an extra in a K- drama. It wasn’t the same as the office. But in a lot of ways it was similar, and just happened in a different setting. Directors and staff were never kind to extras. I had to stay outside in the cold till they called. I had to change into other clothes on the bus. I also had to buy nice clothes to get some other extra work. So, once again I was sick of my work life. I started to search for other interesting jobs again. I found tarot work. And I started in February 2013.
RH: Do Korean people like tarot? What’s your impression? What about Korean Christians? Have any come to you?
JL: Usually, Koreans are interested in tarot cards. I think they are curious about mystical things like fortune telling. I am sure it is the same with other countries. I had an impression from my customers. They came with no hope for their life but they visited again later and the hopeless situation changed. They had lots of hope and a happier life. It made me happy to see that. About Christians, some are extremist and think I will go to hell. Other Christians are good. They use only information or advice or some special ideas about what they could not imagine.
There are lots of tarot events in Korea for entertaining crowds. There are parties, big events. It is similar to Pierrot but nice clothes and props. They read only good things. For example, they would spread the tarot cards and say, “Oh you are so special. You will have great money luck in 2020.” At one such event, I was working there. It was at the Yangjae AT Center for seniors. Suddenly, the event was closed down and we were kicked out because of some Christians complaints.
RH: What are common problems people want solved when they go to tarot?
JL: You can probably guess. They are love and relationships.
RH: Do some people get tarot out of curiosity?
JL: Yes! I would like to emphasize that they do. Usually, there are some people who do it that are not so serious.
RH: What’s the best thing about providing tarot to people?
JL: I am bad at talking with others but tarot can be a good helper. If you are not good at making friends, you need a subject to break the ice or one that others view with curiosity.
RH: Do you have any touching or funny stories about people?
JL: I would need a translator, as my English isn’t very good. I have lots of interesting stories.
RH: Do some people act funny when they hear about your job? Have you faced discrimination?
JL: Of course! I have an uncle and he is protestant. I did not hear directly but he said to my mom. “She works as a tarot reader? She is young, why does she work in something that bad.”
RH: Do you ever get sick of tarot? Do some friends ask for free readings? Do you put it aside sometimes?
JL: Yeah, it can be annoying. When I meet people, sometimes they ask for a free tarot reading. They do it even if it is the first time we meet. Usually, I answer that I do it only for work. I do tarot for my friends but only for those that never request a tarot reading. Or I do it for those that have really serious problems.
RH: Do Korean men come to you in equal numbers?
JL: There are less male clients. Some men have told me, “It is a girlish hobby. It’s not for men.”
RH: What do men usually ask about?
JL: Love and relationships. But they test me first. Like, they ask about money first and after that they think I am good at tarot.
RH: What do women usually ask about?
JL: Love and relationships, the same as men. I watch Youtube. It is full of love and relationship general readings for tarot. You can conclude that love and relationships are the most popular topic.
RH: Have you had foreign customers?
JL: I’ve had Chinese, Japanese, Russians, Americans, and others.
RH: Do you think tarot will be a part of your future?
JL: I cannot say I am sure that I will work as a tarot reader. But I am sure that it is part of my history.
RH: Do you think you are improving your ability to read tarot? Do you have a lot more to learn?
JL: I must improve my ability to read tarot. I don’t think you can ever know too much about history, philosophy, language, cultures, space, psychology, trends, and news. Improving spiritually is a second path.
RH: Do you get readings from other tarot readers?
JL: Yes, sometimes. It is a wonderful experience. There are lots of miracle readers.
RH: Is there a camaraderie between people that work in tarot?
JL: With some readers there is friendship and common ground.
RH: Where can people interested in tarot take classes or buy decks?
JL: This is important. It is easy to find people who teach tarot. They can be found both online and offline. But it does not mean they are all good readers. Sometimes, you will throw away your time and money and regret that you enrolled in a class. If you learn from someone who says they are the best, you might fail. Real readers are modest. You have to visit them first and have a good talk with them. Never hurry. Buying decks is easy. Connect to Amazon or Ebay and order them.
David Kute has an appreciation for Seoul’s distinct neighborhoods. From Dongdaemun’s market stalls to Hongdae’s rock music venues, the city continues to fascinate him. After spending many years living and working in Seoul and South Korea, he started the blog Rooftop on the Hanok. The blog is a place to share information as well as explore facets of life on the Korean peninsula. He enjoys writing fiction and playing basketball when he’s not researching or writing Rooftop on the Hanok posts.