People in most parts of the world do not think about their blood group much, unless they have an operation or an accident and need a transfusion. But in Japan, whether someone is A, B, O or AB is a topic of everyday conversation.
There is a widespread belief that blood type determines personality, with implications for life, work and love.
It is Saturday night and a speed dating session is under way in a small building in the backstreets of Tokyo. It is a scene repeated in cities across the world but this speed dating session in Japan has a twist. It is for women who want to meet men with blood group A or AB. One says she decided to narrow down her search for a boyfriend after a bad experience with a man with type B.
“Looking back it seems trivial,” she said. “But I couldn’t help getting annoyed by how disorganised he was.”
“I really would like someone with type A blood,” added her friend. “My image is of someone who is down to earth, something like that.”
Interest in blood type is widespread in Japan, particularly which combinations are best for romance.
Women’s magazines run scores of articles on the subject, which has also inspired best-selling self-help books. The received wisdom is that;
- Type A – dependable and self sacrificing, but reserved and prone to worry.
- Type O – Decisive and confident
- Type AB – well balanced, clear-sighted and logical, but also high-maintenance and distant.
- Type B – flamboyant free-thinkers, but selfish.
“At the interview for my first job they asked me about my blood type,” said a man with blood group B, who wanted to identify himself only as Kouichi. “The surprise was written on my face. Why? It turned out the company president really cared. She’d obviously had a bad experience with a B type blood person. But somehow I got the job anyway.”
Later, though, the issue of his blood came up again. “The president was the kind of person who couldn’t take her drink and at one company party she got drunk. So she sent B people home before the others. ‘You are blood type B,’ she said. ‘Get out.’”
There is even a term for such behaviour in Japan, burahara, which translates as blood group harassment.
The preoccupation with blood ultimately dates back to theories of eugenics during the inter-war years. One study compared the blood of people in Taiwan, who had rebelled against Japanese colonial rule, with the Ainu from Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido, thought to be more peaceable.
Stripped of its racial overtones, the idea emerged again in the 1970s.