Shiawase No Mai
Tarot by Marina Oka and Keiko Sugimoto
Review by Diane Wilkes
You know how you have certain songs that you like, even though they're kind of tacky and pop and not lyrically substantive? They're infectious, dammit, so you hum them to yourself and hope you do it quietly enough that no one hears you. That same "guilty pleasure" correlates to my fondness for Japanese decks, even ones that don't really offer anything new or different--they're just pretty and I have to have them--so I pay the exorbitant prices with a smile on my face.
The Shiawase No Mai Tarot has nothing new to say whatsoever. It's a Rider-Waite-Smith Majors-only clone that could be described as simply a redrawn version of that classic deck. But...it's pretty. The colors are warm pastels, the art is good, and, as some actress once said, "I regret nothing."
The Fool stands at the ubiquitous precipice with the sun at his back. A tranquil colonial blue sky is his backdrop, though sharp, icy mountains appear ominously at the foot of the card. The dog nipping at his heels is caramel-colored and seems to be protective, not pushing him towards the edge. All of these things conspire to make the leap seem a little less threatening and a lot more attractive--but the "edginess" (pun intended) of this version of the card, the complexity, if you will, is absent.
I am struck by the fact that the Hermit has a similar sun reflecting from his lantern. The sky is a darker version of the colonial blue and he walks along a craggy landscape, much like The Fool. Normally, I don't think of these cards as being alike in this way. However, The Hermit's cloak is so beautifully draped and drawn...there's something elegant about Japanese decks, say what you will.
One notable difference in this deck is that two traditionally male cards have female figures. The Magician is a formidable-but-chic woman dressed in Art Deco style. The woman in this card reminds me of Rachel Pollack...something about the height and hair...
The other traditionally male-now-female card is The Chariot; this card hews very strictly to the R-W-S version, including the starry canopy.
The Empress is rather sharply drawn, and not particularly voluptuous. She's decked out in patterned, Art Nouveau togs, too. However, the flowing waterfall and blooming plant life by her side connote the fecundity for which The Empress is so well known. The Emperor has bushy, beetled brows and heavy beard, which gives him a dictatorial authority; his throne is made of stone and its clean, classic lines radiate solidity and structure (but he's dressed as fashionably as his mate).
Death is rather dashing--he wears a red cape that flows artfully behind him as his scythe cuts into the water he walks upon. Pay no attention to the head, hand, and foot that float by him...the face, upturned, pale, and serene, seems to indicate relief that Death has finally shown up.
Most of the other cards are so clone-like as to be almost-boring. The Sun has the child on the white horse, the sunflowers, the brick wall, even the flowing flag. The Devil is a bit interesting, in that he looks rather urbane, if you don't mind his black wings and horns.
Two cards, though, stand out as particularly lovely and why I am drawn to these decks. Strength is a graceful blonde, who tames a lion against a plum-colored sky. She stands on an elegant paneled palazzo floor, and the silhouettes of the trees seem to bend and dance. The card evokes a time when manners mattered, and the world wasn't as prosaic as it is today.
The woman in the Justice card has her hair braided a la Princess Leia, but the paisley shawl adds a touch of haute couture sadly lacking in most decks. The classical Greek arches and carpeted stairs add a symmetry that seems just right for this card that seeks balance with such even-handedness. Temperance and The Star, two cards I am usually drawn too, seem a bit insipid, though.
The cards are slimmer and a bit shorter than the standard R-W-S, and have a high gloss finish. The backs are kind of odd; the pattern looks like tightly-woven lace atop a mauve background, with the letter "M" upright and reversed in the middle. The letters are in cursive, and are bedecked with finely-drawn leaves, which heightens the feminine look--they remind me of old-fashioned calling cards. Like the R-W-S, Strength is eight and Justice, 11.
Two of the cards in my copy of the deck seem doubly thick, as if two cards were pasted onto one. You can possibly see this "doubling" in the Emperor card.
Some of the cards have an astrological glyph on the top right hand corner. While some follow traditional Golden Dawn attributions, others do not (Temperance's astrological correspondence is traditionally Sagittarius, in this deck, it's Cancer; Aries tops the Sun). None of the planetary glyphs have been assigned to any cards--maybe the typesetter didn't have the fonts?
The set (a deck and book) is packaged beautifully--another trademark of Japanese decks--in a slim cardboard box that opens at the side.
This R-W-S clone costs $18--and remember: it's a Majors-only deck. The only people I can really recommend this deck to are those, who, like me, love the style and grace of Japanese art-decks, and are willing to pay a lot of money for a Major Arcana that doesn't offer much in the way of new insights. Of course, you get a 146-page paperback book, too...but to derive anything of value from it, you have to speak Japanese.
You can purchase a copy of this set at Sasuga Books.
You can read another review of this deck here.
Shiawase No Mai Tarot
Marina Oka and Keiko Sugimoto
Publisher: Tsuchiya Shoten Binding
Art © 1989 Keiko Sugimoto
Review and Page © 2001 Diane Wilkes