Mudsock Heights

Mudsock Heights

A finger is pricked for a blood test. (Credit: Alden Chadwick; CC BY-SA 3.0)

Getting Type-Cast

By Dennis E. Powell | Posted at 11:53 AM

Do you know your blood type?

Some of us do. I’d hazard that most of us don’t. It’s not something that comes up, and when it is a matter of medical importance it can be determined quickly enough. But there are people who consider it almost as important as one’s age or educational achievements.

I’d never heard of this until, watching anime a year or so ago, I noticed that characters would sometimes specify their blood type when speaking to each other. That seemed strange to me. At first I thought that it might be included in the script to signify a character eager to provide overly detailed information about himself. But it happened several times. There must be more to it. So I did a little poking around. The story I found is fascinating.

It turns out that over the last century there has been the widespread belief that you can tell much about a person if you know his or her blood type. This idea has been particularly popular in Japan, where it has led to some problems.

In 1916, a Japanese physician named Kimata Hara published a paper in which he proffered the notion that your blood type determines your personality. Eleven years later Takeji Furukawa, a former professor of Ochanomizu University in Tokyo, expanded on the idea with a series of papers, “The Study of Temperament through Blood Type.” The idea got revived in the 1970s in a best-selling book by Masahiko Nomi. There have been several other books published on the topic in Japan, and they all seem to have done well.

Visitors to Japan are frequently asked by new acquaintances, “What’s your blood type?” In some respects this resembles the “what’s your sign?” cliché in the American dating scene of a few decades ago (and, who knows, maybe even now). It’s asking for trouble to say it, but I will anyway: There is little, probably no, evidence that one’s blood type has anything to do with his personality, even as there’s no evidence that the stars under which one is born determine his fate.

Still, ketsueki-gata, as the linking of blood type to disposition is called, is embraced by 29 percent of Japanese men and 45 percent of Japanese women, according to a 2016 survey, in which 99 percent of Japanese people said they know their blood types. As with astrological belief, persons of particular blood types are said to have particular dominant personality traits. Some Japanese publications even publish forecasts based on blood type, the way many Western newspapers carry the daily horoscope. There are articles delving into which blood types make for compatible marriages, which careers are best for those of particular blood types, and so on.

It’s all good fun until someone gets hurt, and it seems as if people have in fact gotten hurt. “We know in our mind that we should not discriminate against people, but we’re unconsciously doing so regarding blood types,” said Yasufumi Shibanai, an associate professor of sociology at Doshisha University in Kyoto, in a 2008 article in Japan Times. Because type-A and type-O are most common in Japan, the prejudice has been aimed at those who have type-B and type-AB, 20 and 10 percent of the population respectively. In a video posted this week, Japanese culture commentator Shogo mentions that there are even employers who use ketsueki-gata in some of their staffing decisions.

Strange, isn’t it. Though, once again, it’s no stranger than our use of astrology. Perfectly sane people, probably more than admit it, will postpone a trip or make another decision based on the bad feeling they got from the morning paper’s horoscopes.

What struck me as interesting — and bear in mind that this is more a hot take than an informed, considered conclusion — is how the relatively homogeneous country of Japan latched on to a theory that separates people and sets up rivalries. I’ve read in multiple authoritative places that Japanese culture is more regimented than we’d typically find in America, with accent placed on group rather than individual achievement, yet competition among groups can be fierce, whether it be in athletics, business, or something else. Might it be that the creation of a new set of clearly defined groups made ketsueki-gata appealing?

More than that, is there something universal in human nature that imparts a them-or-us mentality? For as long as there have been people, it seems, there has been a tendency to make enemies of other people solely because they aren’t us. While there might be some psycho-evolutionary basis for this — the idea that strangers might pose a threat so it might be best to go ahead and kill them — that excuse has now given way to a more organized, political justification in most respects. The Bible is in large measure a history of wars among people who were different as to belief. Indeed, one of the innovations of Christianity is the inclusion by Jesus — through St. Paul — of the “Greeks,” which meant non-Hebrews, as people qualified to receive God’s blessing. (By the way, if the Shroud of Turin is genuine, as I believe it is, Jesus was type-AB.)

Over history many judgments and disputes large and small have been based on collective differences within populations. You need look no farther than the ethnic histories of any of our immigrant-rich American cities for evidence.

I’ve written that crowds make smart people stupid and stupid people loud; the internet seems to have rallied to prove me right (as if there had ever been any doubt), through the creation of mobs that roam around attacking those who differ in any way, or each other if no one else can be found. People throw, in the newspaper cliché, rocks and bottles and engage in behavior they otherwise wouldn’t, when they’re part of a crowd. Online, they hurl vile and demonstrably untrue smears in hope that the noise will obscure their own lack of achievement and ability to reason. The idea of establishing groups and declaring everyone not in those groups as enemies, is a powerful one.

It’s sad, but my reading about a disciplined and accomplished people embracing the notion that our blood type determines our personality leads me to wonder if looking for groups to attack is hardwired in all of us.

And I wonder if maybe our attempts to solve this problem have gone the wrong way, making things worse.

Years ago, at a newspaper in New York, I worked with a couple of old guys, one a sportswriter of Italian descent and the other a political commentator of Irish heritage. When they were in the office at the same time it would not be long before they were referring to each other in the vilest ethnic terms, things that a generation earlier would have led to bloodshed. But now, they’d end up laughing. They’d removed the sting from the once-offensive language. It now meant nothing. More than that, it parodied itself.

Since that time I’ve encountered others who simply refuse to be offended. Rather than looking for excuses to have hurt feelings, they have inoculated themselves against all manner of real (or nowadays more often imagined) slights. One of them, a black co-worker at a radio network, put it beautifully: “Why would I let an idiot have that kind of power over me?” Getting upset would reward the offender; laughing it off made him look silly, a yapping puppy of a human. Our society, or at least the loudest part of it, has taken the opposite route, hurling invective, “canceling,” and making accusations, and it doesn’t seem to have worked out at all well. Nor will it.

The search for things that divide us and the search for ways to be outraged by those divisions in pursuit of one groupthink continue. I guess I was surprised to learn that this seems common to most if not all cultures, even very old cultures I thought knew better.

But as I looked into it I did make one important discovery: based on the personality traits described by ketsueki-gata, my blood type seems to change from day to day.

Dennis E. Powell is crackpot-at-large at Open for Business. Powell was a reporter in New York and elsewhere before moving to Ohio, where he has (mostly) recovered. You can reach him at

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