Only In Japan

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Blood Types

If you are thinking of coming to Japan and making Japanese friends, make sure you know your blood type.

This sentence doesn't make sense to you? Welcome to Japan.

According to the Japanese Theory Of Blood Types, your personality is largely determined by your blood type. The theory comes from a Nazi scientist of the 30's who wanted to prove that some blood types (notably B) were sure indicators of shiftiness and antisocial behaviour, whereas some other blood types (notably A) indicated group spirit, respect for the law and what else. No cookies for guessing which blood types are common in the Germanic and Jewish populations...

Anyway, the theory has been popular - with ups and downs - in Japan ever since. Which is quite funny considering the Japanese have a high ratio of "bad" to "good" blood types compared to, for example, Caucasians.

But enough of this, I guess you want to know which personality traits are associated with each blood type, right?

Blood type A people are nervous perfectionists, law-abiding and working well in groups. They have a "perfect employee and good citizen" image, but are also associated with what Westerners call an anal-retentive personality, and as such are sometimes regarded as "not fun".

Blood type B is the much-maligned "my way" blood type, self-centered and irresponsible, following its impulses and feelings regardless of the consequences. In other words, everything Japanese people traditionally hate... Younger people tend to have a better image of that blood type though, and are more likely to consider blood type B people "fun to be with".

Blood type AB is quite mysterious: it has characteristics of both A and B, and as such is kind of equated with split personality. Blood type AB people are supposedly unpredictable and constantly shifting between poise and very emotional states, which makes them hard to cope with for non-AB people. On the up side, they are supposedly more empathic than average, and there is also a certain mystique around the AB bloodtype since it is quite uncommon. Not a very popular bloodtype though...

Blood type O people, on the other hand, are described as sometimes a bit childish, but very social, outgoing, and self confident: in other words, "born leaders". One of the popular blood types in Japan!

Wikipedia has a slightly different description of the personalities associated with blood types here

And now for the fun part: bashing the theory to pieces! It shouldn't be necessary to explain that human beings have more than 4 kinds of personalities, but some demonstrations are too funny to pass up...

Consider, for example, Native South Americans. They all have the blood type O exclusively. So theirs would be a whole society of cheerful leaders, but without dedicated workers or strongly sentimental people... That would make for some fun sociology, but unfortunately ethnologues do not report any notable differences in the personality structures of Native South Americans as compared to other human groups. A shame, really! That would beat science-fiction.

It is also fun to compare the distribution of blood types around the world, and check if the results fit your travelling experiences. For example, the blood type "B" is shared by 22% of Japanese people but only 7% of the French. Hilarious! The Japanese would be 3 times more likely to be moody and irrational than the French! Who would have thought...

I could go on and on, but that would be overkill.

So why do the Japanese cling so hard to that weird belief? Well, for the same reason that astrology is still around in the West I suppose: because superstitions (and, cynics would say, religions) are deeply reassuring. An imperfect theory to understand the world or people around you is still better than no theory at all.

But I think the main reason why this funny theory is so popular in Japan is that the Japanese media do everything to protect it and make it thrive. A TV programme that cleverly "proves" the theory to be right (through hidden cameras filming "unsuspecting subjects" behaving "naturally" in different circumstances for example) is sure to get a good rating. As you can guess, such programmes are one of the staples of Japanese TV. Who would be stupid enough to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?

As a result, Japanese people - who traditionally trust their media - are repeatedly assured that the theory works, and thus come to regard any demonstration of the opposite as some kind of sophistry. I have personally come to the conclusion that you can't win against Japanese TV, and so nowadays I just go with the flow. Not every cause is worth fighting for...

But the really funny thing is, there is another bloodtype. A very small proportion of ethnic Africans have the blood type U. I'd really like to know what kind of people they are...

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Love Hotels 2

The love hotel industry has been flourishing in Japan for at least 30 years; but as the market reached saturation, sometime during the Eighties, competition for the horny couple got much more intense. As usual though, competition has profited the customer, and there has never been a better time to take that special someone to a love hotel.

But concretely, what did the love hotel industry do to woo more customers?

The obvious first thing they did was to increase the quality of the service and the rooms available to the customers. One day when my favourite haunts were all full, I had to go to one of these old love hotels from the 80's; well it was very clean (as usual in Japan), but it felt pretty much like a regular hotel from the 80's with a new big-screen TV. None of the nifty gadgets I had grown used to: no sex-toy vending machines, no Karaoke set, no Playstation, no slot machines or tanning beds, no Jacuzzi bath...
Surprisingly, we managed to have fun anyway.

But the main revolution in the love hotel industry was the introduction of the theme room. To get an edge on the competition, hotels began to create rooms catering for particular sexual fantasies (the office, S&M dungeons, cars, classrooms, commuter trains...) as well as "exotic" rooms: Hawaii-themed rooms are everywhere, but you can also find a Provence-themed hotel here in Osaka, and I am sure all popular resort and travel destinations are covered somewhere in Japan. After all, they do have an Alcatraz-themed hotel in Gunma...

And then come the "cute" rooms: Japanese women LOVE anything cute, so inviting them to a "cute" room increases your chances of getting a positive answer, right?
Yes, right. And as a result, Teddy Bears, Hello Kitty, anime, Merry-Go-Rounds, Christmas angels in a Christmas wonderland... The whole gamut of children-oriented pop culture is represented in Japanese love hotels. I don't really understand how that puts people in a sexy mood, but to each his own I guess.

As an aside, a famous love hotel in Osaka has a S&M Hello Kitty room. No comment needed...

This abundance of choice also means that numerous websites are devoted to love hotel tourism; and most local entertainment magazines feature articles on the latest rooms/hotels, right between the "new restaurants" and the "cinema schedules" sections. There is no better proof of the respectabilty the love hotel has acquired in Japanese society... So if you have a chance, no need to feel embarassed! Choose the night's theme, and just go for it... It's money you won't regret.

Just avoid that schmaltzy Christmas Wonderland hotel. It really sucks.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Love Hotels Part I: Rest Or Stay?

There is a list of "Things To Do" when travelling in Japan: visit a few temples, go to a sento (public bath) or onsen (hot springs), eat at a real sushi restaurant, try pachinko (a kind of vertical pinball), get lost in a "tech town" district like Akihabara in Tokyo or Den-Den Town in Osaka...

...And of course, spend a night in a "Love Hotel".

Love hotels are inexpensive but high-quality hotels where rooms can be booked by the hour ("rest") or for the night ("stay"). They are primarily aimed at the young couple in quest of intimacy, and emphasize discretion so as not to embarass their customers. Thus, they are generally located off the main streets, and their entrances and exits are slightly concealed. The only thing you see of the staff is their hands when they take your money. In the parking lots, screens raise to hide the cars number plates. All is made to minimize the risk of meeting an acquaintance by chance... Although, of course, it sometimes happens! There are many stories of people bumping into their regular partner in the hall of a love hotel. I guess it must be funny.

The really surprising thing about love hotels, though, is their sheer number. They can be found everywhere. It is quite interesting, considering that the Japanese are not known for frequent intercourse. According to my friends, the success of love hotels is due to 3 kinds of people:

-Young couples: in Japan, most people live with their parents up until marriage, and it is unthinkable to invite your loved one for a week-end at the family home; so the hotel is the only place to go until marriage. And even if one of the partners has his/her own place, Japanese people are very shy about inviting people to their homes (even people they feel intimate enough with to have sex together), so many starting couples prefer to meet on "neutral ground".

-Older couples: Japanese apartments are famously cramped and poorly soundproofed. So couples with kids or living with elderly parents (a common occurence throughout Asia) rarely feel relaxed enough to make love at home. So they go to a place where they can concentrate on having fun: the love hotel next door, for example.

And then there are the "other couples", or as Lisa Katayama put it in Wired "politician and secretary, teacher and student, husband and hooker"... In Japan, married couples are notoriously uninterested in conjugal sex ("sexless couples" are one of the most common themes in the Japanese media), but it doesn't mean they have no libido... And quite often that libido goes into extra-marital affairs. Anyway, these "other couples" can certainly use the privacy of a love hotel!

To be continued in: Love Hotels Part II, a room for every fantasy!

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

On the phone

My company is, by Japanese standards, fairly easygoing. You can ask the boss "Hey Yoshi, whaddyawant for lunch?" without getting fired; actually without raising a single eyebrow in the room. Cynics will say it's the "you can call me whatever you want as long as you work 12 hours a day " attitude, but still it's pretty unusual in Japan.

Things change when interacting with customers: then it's all subdued attitudes, endless sentences in polite Japanese, and a general emphasis on not contradicting the customer or giving him / her any bad feelings. This attitude is directly linked to the uchi soto syndrome, in which people are very relaxed when in their intimate group and very awkward when outside that same group; and it may look a bit silly, but it is one reason why service is always so good in Japan, so it's really something to be grateful for!

Anyway, the really interesting thing is to observe my co-workers on the phone. Maybe to make up for the fact that they can't use body language to express their humility, their voice becomes exaggeratedly meek. They really speak like little girls! And they even bow on the phone when saying good bye. Now that's politeness! (By the way, I have heard of people bowing to the fax machine when an important fax comes in...)

This situation has two upsides for me though: I get to laugh my head off at my co-workers; and, although my Japanese is fairly decent, they will NEVER let me answer the phone. He he.

After they hang up though, my co-workers often curse copiously at the customers and their unrealistic demands. Some things are the same everywhere, I guess.

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