Thursday, January 27, 2011

What’s your type?

Consider the following:

You are having a chat with someone you have just recently met. In the course of conversation he asks you, “What’s your blood type?” By your best guess he is:
  • A. a vampire, trying to decide if you will be pleasing to his pallet.
  • B. a concerned blood bank worker who is about to inform you how many liters of your type they need each day.
  • C. in possession of a large quantity of excess blood and is determining if you would be interested in his surplus (for emergency transfusions, of course).
  • D. trying to learn a bit more about your personality.

If you are in Japan, the answer will most likely be D.

How many of you reading this actually know your own blood type? I’m guessing it’s not many. Well, perhaps this entry will convince you all to ask your doctors next time you are in for a visit. In the interest of learning more about yourself.

In Japan it is “believed” that your ABO blood type reflects certain aspects of your personality, temperament, and compatibility with others. I say “believe” in quotations because it’s like astrological signs. People ask about it, but most people don’t take it too seriously. And like astrology I’m sure there are some people out there who take it really really seriously. But most people from my experience do not. It’s just for fun.

However, they do ask about it. This is just a normal question that people ask when getting to know each other. It’s kinda like the Japanese version of “What’s your sign?” except without the connotation of being asked predominantly by creepy guys trying to pick you up in bars. It’s estimated that 90% of the Japanese population know their blood type, although it’s impossible to tell if this is the cause of the “blood typology” phenomenon or a result of it.

Because compatibility is a factor, blood types are almost always listed in magazines when celebrities give profiles of basic information about themselves. So you can tell which if your favorite singers and actors are perfectly suited for you. Matchmakers and dating sites often use this information to help find you a match. Many politicians, including the former Prime Minister Taro Aso, seem to consider it important enough to list on their official profiles on the Internet. A good portion of the top selling books each year tend to be related to blood type and personality.

Knowing this all ahead of time, I wasn’t surprised when a class of forth graders asked me my blood type. At least, not once I understood what they were asking… I knew whatever the student was asking sounded familiar, but for the life of me I couldn’t place it. So the inquisitive kid used a very successful technique to help me understand. He started listing off all the possible answers. “A, O, AB” and suddenly I was like “OHHHH!” Smart kid. My junior high kids eventually got around to it too, although they asked in English (after some coaching from the English teacher). And, in case anyone is curious, my blood type is A.

While writing this entry I came across an interesting explanation for why this fad is popular in Japan and why it’s never really caught on overseas. In Japan, people are very similar genetically (such as similar hair and eye color). But they don’t want to seem the same. Interestingly though, the population of Japan has a fairly even distribution of blood types. So, if you group people by blood type, diversity is created. In Europe and America, however, the vast majority of people are type A or O. So most people would fall into only two of the categories. It’s not nearly as interesting that way.

I searched the internet for a bit and discovered that, at least of the sites in English (you know, that I can read…), not all seem to agree on what the traits are of each blood type. This didn’t really surprise me, since it is basically a horoscope. And since translation is obviously involved, it may be somewhat of a result of different people saying things different ways and stressing different things. But reprinted below is the one that seemed to fit best with what I had previously been told, so here it is in all its glory along with some notes on compatibility.

A Blood

People with A type blood have a deep-rooted strength that helps them stay calm in a crisis when everyone else is panicking. However, they tend to avoid confrontation, and feel very uncomfortable around people. A types are shy and sometimes withdrawn. They seek harmony and are very polite, but all the same feel that they never really fit in with others. A types are very responsible. If there is a job to be done, they prefer to take care of it themselves. These people crave success and are perfectionists. They are also very creative, and the most artistic of all blood types, most likely because of their sensitivity. Most compatible with A and AB.

B blood

People with B blood are the most practical of the blood groups. They are specialist in what they do. When they start a project, they spend extra time understanding and trying to follow directions than others might. When they are doing something, all of their attention is focused on it. They tend to stick to a goal and follow through to the end, even if it seems impossible. They are often cheerful, but can be a bit selfish. They tend to be less than cooperative, as they like to follow their own rules and their own ideas and can be seen as eccentric. They are individualists. B type people pay attention to their thoughts a little more than their feelings, and therefore can sometimes seem cold and arrogant. Most compatible with B and AB.

AB Blood

AB type people are unique, are hard to categorize, and are rather mysterious. They can have characteristics on two ends of the spectrum at the same time. For instance they are both shy and outgoing. They easily switch from one opposite to another. Because of this they can be unpredictable and indecisive. AB people are trustworthy and responsible, but can't handle it when too much is asked of them. They don't mind doing favors or helping out, as long as it’s their own conditions. People with this blood type are interested in art and metaphysics. Compatible with all blood types.

O Blood

O type people are outgoing, energetic and social. They are the most flexible of the blood types. They easily start up projects but often have trouble following through because they give up easily. They are flighty and not too dependable. O types always say what's on their mind, and how they feel. O types value the opinion of others, and like to be in the center of attention. Also, people with O blood are extremely self confident. They are curious and generous, but can be stubborn. Most compatible with O and AB.

This actually falls under the “things I learned from anime and manga” category. You too may have noticed that character profiles from anime, manga, or video games that come from Japan will often include blood type along with other stats like height, eye color, and birth date. When I first noticed this I was reading a lot of action series, so I thought, “Well, are they telling us this because those characters need a lot of blood transfusions?” And then in an anime magazine I stumbled across an article that explained it all to me.

You see, it’s almost a cheat. The creator is offering you a shortcut to the character’s personality. By saying a character has Type A blood the creator has already told you a lot about the character and how they might respond in certain situations. If you are Japanese anyway. Because while blood type in real life is determined by genetics, in fiction the author gets to fit it to his whims. So the personality fit will likely be much closer.

Of course, there is a slight darker side to the craze. The word buru-hara means harassment or discrimination based on blood type. Some job applications started to have a blank for blood type and people were asked about it in interviews. Since there are positive and negative traits for each type some companies were discriminating people based on their blood type. I don’t think it is very common anymore, but it made waves at one point.

So how does yours fit? Oh, wait. Perhaps you are like most Americans and don’t actually know your blood type. Well, such a revelation would shock my Japanese friends. After I told my students my blood type, my English teacher turned to me and said in a disbelieving voice, “The last ALT I worked with did not know his blood type.” It was as though he was telling me that he hadn’t known his birthday or what color his eyes were. This is just basic information here. I told him most of my friends don’t know their blood types and he was really surprised. ALL of my students know their blood type. I asked many of them after I told them mine. The kids who were A like me smiled in a sort of “we are the same” way that made me smile too.

Aren’t you curious now? There could be hidden factors to your personality lurking just below the surface. Or not, but hey you never know.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An Extra Helping of Whale

So yesterday a friend of mine mentioned on facebook that she ate whale during school lunch. Today I casually glanced at the school lunch calendar and, as fate would have it, we were having whale today!

The key word here is くじら

Many of you have read my previous post about eating whale, and for a looong time it was the most popular post on this blog, which I was not expecting. Unlike last time I was expecting what was set before me. And this time they asked me if I knew what it was BEFORE we started eating. AND THIS TIME I GOT PICTURES!!

Probably not as epic as you were expecting...

Because I know you were all dying to know what my whale looked like. It was prepared differently than last time, and it wasn’t as tasty this time around. It was a bit hard on the outside, but it tasted like meat and wasn’t too bad. I asked a bunch of the kids if they like whale and got a variety of responses from turned up noses and “nos” to “so-sos” to emphatic “yeses.”

This time I got a little more of an explanation as to why we were eating whale. I mentioned to my teacher that my friend had also had whale. It seemed a bit too coincidental that both of our schools had decided to have whale in the same week. He told me that this week is the anniversary of the school lunch program. Because of this, we have special menus all week. Our menu today was similar to what they had for lunch sixty years ago. They used to eat a lot of whale for lunch at school so now once a year we do as well. My teacher said that school lunch is the only time he has whale, so he only eats it once a year.

There are a few other activities during school lunch week. The students write thank you letters to the staff who prepare school lunch. Yesterday (at my other junior high), several of the school lunch ladies came to eat with the kids. Eric told me that one of his schools once sang a bunch of songs about how good the food was for the school lunch staff. It’s a nice gesture for the kids to remember that other people are working hard to provide them with a nice meal at school and a good opportunity for them to show their appreciation.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Common Japanese Fairytale Themes

I’m a really big fan of fairytales and legends and mythology from other cultures as I think it gives you an insight into the culture. I have been reading a bunch of Japanese fairy tales and I noticed some really common elements. I’ll share some of them with you here, along with the values they seem to reinforce.

1) Childless people

It has gotten to the point that if a story starts “There was once a man and his wife,” I can instantly tell that the next line will likely be something along the lines of, “They were very kind people but one thing troubled their hearts for they were childless and longed for a child to bring them joy in their old age.” In one book I must have read four or five stories that all started this way. Often the couple is older and has no child, but sometimes it’s a younger couple who work very hard to have a child. In one story the couple had a dog that they spoiled like a child. The virtue here seems to be that children are the greatest treasures of all.

2) Wicked Neighbors

It seems that beside every kind elderly couple lives a wicked elderly couple. Whenever the kind couple stumbles into some fortune or other the wicked couple grows jealous and tries to gain the same thing for themselves. This usually backfires, often due to their own greed, but instead of blaming themselves for their actions which led to trouble, they grow to hate their neighbors even more. This seems to be a pretty clear lesson of don’t covet your neighbor’s goods.

3) Horrid Stepmothers

Poor step-mothers. They really get a bad rap in fairytales the world over. Why is that exactly? The Japanese examples I’ve seen involve the step-mother being jealous of the attentions her new husband gives to his daughter. And the stepmother often tries to kill the girl, or at least tries to have her driven away by telling lies about her to her father. The stepmothers are always found out in the end and they either repent and learn to love the child or are driven away themselves. At first I would think that this was a lesson to be kind to your children, but the primary focus always seems to be on the daughter who endures the hardship patiently and remains dutiful to her stepmother despite her obvious malice. While I think both messages persist in these tales (especially when the stepmothers repent and learn to love their stepchildren) the big message always seems to be honor your parents no matter what.

This picture has nothing to do with stepmothers,
buuuuuuuuuuut I didn't have a picture for that one.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Islands of dreaded exaggeration

A while ago a link on facebook caught my attention. It is a blog entry about Amakusa, my current hometown. The facts seem pretty accurate, and the author clearly did some research, but his tone and impressions of the place are just downright depressing. He came here looking for things to be run down and depressing, so he ignored everything that wasn’t and then basked in whatever he could claim as such. He claims in his comments that some of it is meant in jest, but I’m afraid his sarcasm or humor didn’t translate to me very well.

I debated whether or not I should link this article on my blog, and finally decided that it was worth it to see another person’s point of view (although I will taint you all with my opinions first). Keep in mind that this guy is but one view of the area and that my view is very different. Amakusa has its fair share of problems, and perhaps even more than is fair. We are the fastest depopulating area in Japan and we have some major issues with gambling related poverty (Hondo alone has at least 4 pachinko parlors, which is far more than I feel any town the size of Hondo should be able to support). We have a rapidly aging population as does the rest of Japan, although it is probably more noticeable here. But despite what this article will have you think, we are not constantly within a cloud of gloom and doom. The sun does shine. Children laugh and play outside, people smile and greet you on the street. He fails to mention some of the rich culture here, such as the Haiya festival that draws in a good amount of tourism every year.

Reading this article I had to stop several times to laugh and roll my eyes. It really isn’t as bad as he makes it sound. For example, he speaks of the closest train station in Misumi as “utterly deserted and overrun with grass and weeds.” This is gross exaggeration and I don’t even think that the picture he posted gives the impression he was trying to convince his readers of. The trains run about once an hour, so if he wasn’t there near a time when a train arrived of course there weren’t going to be many people. No one hangs out at Misumi station. And we have a station attendant, so the place is never really deserted. And while there is some grass visible on the tracks (which by the way they are doing on purpose in many places as a way of helping the environment, though I don’t know if it is the case here) it hardly appears overgrown. Things only get worse from there.

He presents many statistics to try to back up his gloomy narrative, but doesn’t present some obvious possible explanations for them. For example, he relates how the passenger volume on the Misumi line declined substantially between 1986 and 2007. He seems to see this as evidence of Amakusa slowly dying. However in the previous sentence he mentions how express services stopped in 1986. Hmmmmm… That is the same year that the decline started. Is it possible that with the loss of the express services people realized that the train now took just about as long to get to the city as it would take to drive their own cars (which anyone from Amakusa would have to drive to the station anyway)? He also brings up our depopulation but uses a stat comparing the number of 17 year olds to the number of 19 year olds. Seventeen year olds are still in high school, which Amakusa has several of (although a good number of students do attend high school off of the island). However, a nineteen year old could be a university student and Amakusa certainly isn’t large enough to support one of those. So any university student is clearly not living in Amakusa at that time. I’m not claiming that all of the nineteen year olds are in college as some have joined the workforce straight out of high school, but it is something to consider while analyzing the statistics. A better comparison would have been 17 year olds to 25 year olds. By that age, those who attended university out of Amakusa and returned would be accounted for. And in fact it would probably be better to compare 14 years olds who are still in junior high school rather than 17 year olds who may or may not have already left the area for school. This statistic could very well be similar to the one he presents but I feel it would be a more accurate comparison to analyze the depopulation of the area.

I feel this quote really sums up his attitude, “Where was the spectral gloom for which I had come in quest?” He actually seems disappointed when his first impressions of Amakusa are not horrible. But instead of praising Amakusa for what it has avoided, he selectively presents only those things that can somehow support his preconceived notion of the area. Perhaps the thing that makes me the saddest is that it is a very well written piece. This is not some bit of drivel on the internet that can easily be overlooked and ignored. The author is well spoken and paints a picture for his readers so they can easily come to share his view. I hate to think that many people who had never heard of Amakusa will now think of it as such a dreary and depressing place. I have never, not even on my most depressed days where I hate everything about Japan, seen Amakusa in such a negative light as he does. He does not come to Goshoura, although part of me is morbidly curious of what he would have thought of my island.

You can find the post here and judge for yourselves. Oh, and I advise staying out of the comments as it kind of devolves into bickering and isn’t really insightful in anyway. It is a long piece and hardly light reading, so tackle it when you have some time on your hands. I don’t want to leave you all sad and depresses though, so once you finish reading come back and enjoy these adorable pictures of T-shirts that my students made about Goshoura that are sure to make you smile.