“Whatever is most meaningful to you; whatever it is that you have always known; whatever is truest to you. ‘It’s in my blood,’ you’ll say… cultures across the world, from time immemorial, understood blood as both an actual and symbolic element, the very essence of life.” – Erica Wagner, New Statesman.
Blood. It’s complex on numerous levels, supplying nutrients, vitamins, hormones, and oxygen to vital parts of our bodies, while helping to transport certain waste products out. Blood plays an important role in immunity. It clots at the site of wounds to protect us. Sometimes it can’t, which can kill us. Blood is even considered a connective tissue, and, at an emotional level, it connects us further still. We refer to family members as our blood. For some it connects them to their country, too — how often have you heard a proud patriot declare the blood of their nation to be “coursing through my veins”. But their blood, ironically, may betray also them.
A few weeks ago, UK TV presenter, editor and columnist Piers Morgan, who, he admits, people presume must be as English as they come, took part in a DNA test for his breakfast show, Good Morning. The results proved him to be 91% Celtic, 6.5% Eastern European, 1.6% west Asian, and 0.8% Middle Eastern. As stunned as everyone, Morgan commented: “I don’t seem to have any English blood at all. Not a drop… I’m more Arabic that I am English. Fascinating.” The test results of his co-host, Susanna Reid, showed nearly half her heritage to be a combination of Scandinavian, Eastern European and Iberian DNA. In 2013, US white supremacist Craig Cobb, who was seeking to create a ‘whites-only’ community in North Dakota, hilariously had his DNA test results revealed on live television to be told that 14% of his genes were Sub-Saharan African (just imagine how compulsory DNA testing could be used to castrate racism).
Studies have shown up to 70% of Americans don’t know their blood type, and around half of all Brits and Kiwis don’t either (I don’t know mine), whereas in Japan, it’s estimated that 99% of citizens do. A leading reason is that some Japanese (around a third of men, and nearly half of women) believe blood types to bestow certain personality traits, a theory known as ketsueki-gata. On a visit to Japan, it’s not uncommon — and certainly not rude — to be asked your blood type as a means of getting to know you better. It’s also used to assess romantic and sexual compatibility.
There are of course four blood types — A, O, B, and AB — with As, the most common in Japan, said to be earnest and neat, but stubborn; Os to be laid back but unpunctual; Bs, passionate and creative, if selfish and uncooperative; and ABs, the rarest group, to be talented and temperate but prone to duplicity. There are plenty of cultural nods to ketsueki-gata within anime, comics, film and TV series, along with blood type-themed dating agencies, children’s toys, chocolates, and condoms all dedicated to the philosophy.
But, the blood type theory isn’t all ‘romance and fun times’. “It also caused a huge social problem known as burahara, short for ‘blood harassment’,” notes Kanae Nakamine on Japanese cultural and language blog, Tofugu. “… Each type has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. But in the real world some features get a lot of attention while others are totally ignored.”
Some compare the theory to Western horoscopes — and it was in the West that the idea originated. Morally questionable research in Europe in the early 20th century into how blood type might point towards superiority of some races was picked up by Japanese academic Takeji Furukawa who went on to publish a widely dismissed paper about how it manipulates character. The theory was widely forgotten until the 1970s when a series of books on the topic became best-sellers, and ketsueki-gata was in vogue once more. Numerous researchers have proved there to be no basis in the link between blood and personality, with a recent study of 10,000 Japanese and Americans even published in the Japanese Journal of Psychology also combating the claims.
“As long as people aren’t taking it seriously and using it as the basis for hiring or life decisions such as choosing a marriage partner, I don’t see it as a problem,” Yoshiyuki Watanabe, professor of human psychology at Obihiro University tells the Japan Times. His compatriots, he says, tend to feel nervous about meeting new people and lack confidence in their social skills, so believe this theory will “provide insight to help them get the relationship off to a good start”. He compares it to talking about the weather, a way to make a conversation, he adds, “and hopefully a connection”.
Words: Jamie Christian Desplaces