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Thursday, 8 March 2012

The crazy Japanese obsession with blood types

In the West we've grown accustomed to the fact that Japan seems to be a mix of high-tech, tradition and bat-shit crazy nonsense. Today's story is very much the latter.

Back in 1900, Austrian biologist Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types. A whole bunch of researchers got excited about this and one of the first things they did was compare the distribution of blood types in different countries. It was found, for instance, that there was a higher incidence of the B blood type in Asia.

Rule 35: There's a Hello Kitty everything too
Blah, blah, blah. Yawn, yawn, yawn. Things got a bit interesting when, in 1927, Takeji Furukawa published a paper called "The Study of Temperament Through Blood Type". It didn't matter that Furukawa was a professor at a teacher training college for women or that his basic hypothesis was utter bullshit - the Japanese public got quite excited by the idea. Furukawa became obsessed with resistance to the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. He came up with the notion that because half the inhabitants of Taiwan had blood type O, it was this that made them tough insurgent fighters. His solution was pretty radical: that the Japanese ought to intermarry with the native Taiwanese to produce children with non-O blood. Amazingly, the idea of shagging rebels into submission didn't really catch on and the Japanese military did eventually spot that his work wasn't exactly in the best traditions of science or sanity.

Everyone forgot about the blood/personality thing until the 1970s when a lawyer named Masahiko Nomi who just happened to be a broadcaster too banged out a series of books. That he had no medical background or knowledge and that his research consisted of anecdotes and random conversation didn't seem to matter. This time the whole blood type nonsense really caught on and it's remained so ever since.

This is why characters in Japanese computer games, cartoons and comics tend to have their blood type listed as though its as intrinsic as eye colour.

Even thought this blood type superstition is obviously bullshit a large section of the Japanese population doesn't appear to have noticed. Everyone in Japan knows their blood type. There are dating agencies where you can select potential partners by blood type. Facebook in Japan lists blood type in basic profile information (and no, you can't select "it's complicated"). There are even cases of companies hiring employees based on their blood group. Kids sometimes get bullied at school for having what's regarded as inferior blood types. It's sufficiently bad that there's even a word for it: bura-hara.

Crazy, huh? So what's your starsign?


  1. There is a book that has written blood/personality things may come from resistance of disease. She is one of my favourite authors. 竹内久美子 『小さな悪魔の背中の窪み-血液型・病気・恋愛の真実』

    Yes I am obsessed!

    1. Linking blood type to disease resistance is quite interesting. After all, antibodies vary with blood type, so it's quite possible.

      I'd love to take a look at Takeuchi Kumiko's books, but I suspect they're in Japanese only. Although I do find this one - "Man Symmetry" (I think) - to be intriguing just from the cover. Surprisingly cheap too!