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Tech by VICE

This Japanese Palm Surgery Story Better Have a Short Lifeline

Getting hand surgery to improve your fortune is a trend–but it's not as popular as exoticizing Japan.

by Ben Richmond
Jul 16 2013, 4:30pm
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Even in the world of palm reading, going under the knife to change your fate seems extreme. The Daily Beast reported that some 37 people have gone to one clinic to have the lines on the hands altered with an electric scalpel, to improve their fates, of course. The Beast reports that the $1,000 procedure “burns the flesh, creating the scent of burnt hot dogs, and leaves a semi-permanent scar.”

Let’s admit that the evidence of the trend is not exactly proportional to the attention this story is getting. Thirty-seven people over two years is obviously more than you would expect (right?), but the Daily Beast’s case that it palm-modification was a trend is based on that single statistic and on the notion that other clinics offer the surgery but don’t advertise it.

Pretty shaky stuff, but the story does fit into a larger trend, in a broader sense. For some reason we’re always ready to believe that Japan is into bizarre stuff. 

The biggest recent “weird shit is big in Japan” trend story was about “bagel heads.” In the Western media, the youth of Japan were all pumping their foreheads full of saline solution to give themselves big bulbous growths.

The bagel head was great clickbait, but the coverage made it seem far more popular in Japan than it actually was. “Bagel heading” is expensive, takes two hours, and looks weird and gross to the Japanese too. It was a trend among only the really hardcore body-modification fans. Most Japanese people had no idea that such thing existed. Most of us in the West didn’t know it originated in Canada.

The palm surgery story is not only big in Japan, but has some sort of weird logic that makes it attractive. It sits at the crossroads of rational scientific practice—namely surgery—and superstition. Even those who practice palmistry find the trend sort of strange.

“I read about this surgery and I was very surprised.” Subodh Gupta, a London-based palm reader, told the Daily Mail. “If you want to improve your fortune, take physical actions. So if you want greater health, do some exercise. I have seen people's health lines change after six months of yoga.”

That’s oddly practical, common sense advice from a practitioner of the supernatural.

But then, maybe the palm-modifiers—all 37 or possibly more of them—are more coherent than the skeptics. After all, they believe in the power of lines on their hands altering their fate. If you’re skeptical about palm reading to begin with, why should it matter if the lines have been cut in by electric scalpel? Like, if they’re unnatural, then the lines don’t work?

The most incoherent part is why people who have a thousand bucks to pay for an unnecessary surgery need their money lines extended. The most incomplete part of the story remains the scale. Stories of Japan's impending takeover of the United States have been replaced by stories of China's impending takeover. Rather than recasting the Japanese in a more human light, they now seem to be stuck as exoticized weirdos. I mean, I think tentacle porn is weird, but why should that define a culture?

It's probably time to bust out the electric scalpel and modify the storyline.

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