08 Junio 2017 16:50
Imagine having to live your life ‘in the closet’ for fear of being victimised for your blood group
It is said that myths are shared dreams. Shared dreams that can smother the truth, and that when applied to an innate characteristic of a specific social group can end up fueling harmful prejudices.
In Japan, one of these myths has led to a practice known as burahara, or blood discrimination. And no, we’re not talking about yet another instance of the ‘blood purity’ obsession that has infected Christians, Jews, and Nazis alike over the course of centuries. We’re talking about discriminating against a person based on something as seemingly irrelevant – blood transfusions aside, of course – as his or her blood group.
The curse of the letter B
It all began with a scientific paper published almost a century ago. A study carried out on a small sample which nonetheless had a surprisingly powerful impact on the social psyche of Japan.
It was 1927 when Tokeji Furukawa, professor at Tokyo’s Women’s Higher Normal School, published a paper entitled Study of Temperament and Blood-Groups. The paper, influenced by European research seeking arguments to justify racial superiority and eugenics, was based on the observation of just 11 people – all members of the author’s family.
In Japan, there is a belief that there exists an indisputable correlation between the blood group, personality and temperament of each person, and that this correlation determines that person’s compatibility with others
Despite its lack of scientific rigor, Furukawa’s study quickly permeated Japanese culture. His theory about the correlation between blood group, personality and temperament spawned a widespread culture of superstition around blood typology. According to this idea, blood type confers on a person a series of innate character traits. The ‘blood personality’ or ‘blood psychology’ would, in a way, be the Japanese equivalent of the zodiac signs to people in the West.
According to the theory, people with type A blood are gentle, stable, considerate, organised, and introverted. They are also perfectionists.
Those with blood type O are carefree, relaxed, friendly, organised, confident, determined and tenacious.
Those with blood type B are viewed as impulsive, effusive, flexible, extroverted, optimistic, individualistic, stubborn, curious, and freedom-loving. This final quality can be considered problematic in Japan.‘Blood personality’ or ‘blood psychology’ are, in a way, the Japanese equivalent of the signs of the zodiac
Since the end of the Second World War, stereotyping by blood group has seen periodic surges of popularity in Japan. It became very widespread in the 70s thanks to two books by Masahiko Nomi: Understanding Affinity by Blood Type and Blood Type Humanics. During a few moments in the 90s it became the centre of conversation again. In 2004, the theory was everywhere: with over 70 TV shows about the subject. Another wave of interest came in 2007, with the publication of the Guide to Yourself Based on Blood Type, which sold over five million copies.
The combined influence of all these cultural moments has led to discrimination by blood becoming normalised in Japan. And in this game of temperamental mirrors, two groups come off worse than the others.
Negative stereotyping marks out people with blood type B as being impulsive, irritable, irresponsible, egotistic, erratic and more likely to develop ‘degenerate’ behaviour. Those with AB blood type – with its dual character – are viewed as eccentric, indecisive, forgetful, irresponsible and unpredictable.
In Japan, these stereotypes continue to present individuals with problems when looking for work or establishing relationships.
The long shadow of pseudoscience
As often happens when people talk about the so-called purity or impurity of a person's blood, the ‘blood personality’ is, above all, a moral distinction.
‘There is no scientific basis for assessing character by blood type,’ social psychologist Shigeyuki Yamaoka said to the Daily Beast. ‘But even in a country like Japan where roughly 98% of the population is the same ethnicity, people still find a way to discriminate and group people into convenient moulds.’
The Japanese Ministry of Health and Labour states in its good practice guidelines for recruitment that the employer should not ask candidates for their blood type, date of birth or zodiac sign. To do so could ‘lead to unfair discrimination based on stereotypes and prejudices derived from this information’
Blood personality is a myth. A cultural construction built on pseudoscience. But its effects are very real.
The results of a survey of 5000 Japanese people of varying ages conducted by Yamaoka and his team revealed that three of every four people with type B blood claimed to have been victims of verbal abuse because of their blood type.
On Japanese morning TV it's common to see psychics reading people’s fortunes based on their blood group. Blood typology is commonly used by individuals seeking a romantic partner to measure compatibility. Even anime characters are analysed using blood type.
The most worrying type of discrimination however, takes place in the workplace. Many companies still select candidates or assign jobs based on blood types. The Japanese Ministry of Health and Labour states in its good practice guidelines for recruitment and selection that an employer should never ask candidates for their blood type, date of birth or zodiac sign. To do so could ‘lead to unfair discrimination based on stereotypes and prejudices derived from this information’.
Faced with such potential discrimination, some people with type B blood prefer to live 'in the closet’. Better to hide away, or lie, than live a life of constant harassment.