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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