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  • BBC: Japan’s pseudoscience linking personality traits to blood types. I say it dumbs society down.

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on November 11th, 2012

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    Hi Blog. Here’s something that’s been on my mind for years, and probably on other Readers’ minds too: The emphasis on blood in Japan in determining one’s status in society.

    The BBC below talks about the hegemony of discourse in Japan linking personality traits to blood types. Most of the developed world with any social science training has debunked this. There is of course other quackery of the same ilk (horoscopes/palmistry etc.), but they are hardly taken seriously (they don’t matter in, for example, job interviews). But “blood”-based conceits encourage much more dangerous habits.  As noted below, they have historical connections with eugenics, Master-Race theories and Social Darwinism (i.e. that people can be sorted into personality “types” based upon birth-determined genotypical markers) which, in extreme cases, have led to pogroms and genocide.

    Yet in Japan, blood-based theories of social behavior hold significant sway. In my opinion (based upon my current research), a conceit with “blood” not only legitimizes a lot of bad science (both physical and social), but also converts a lot of latent racializing tendencies into “old-school racism” (I say “old school” because most social scientists nowadays acknowledge that racism is a social construct, not a biological one).  In some cases, for example, one has to be “pure-blooded” in order to be, for example, a “real” Japanese. Thus it doesn’t just allegedly determine personality — it determines one’s legal standing in society. More on that from me some other time.

    In any case, in society such as Japan’s that has this amount of weight put on hierarchy, having a quack science like this (so normalized that people can profit handsomely from it) avails people with poor analytical skills of one more factor to “sort, categorize, typify, and even stigmatize” people for things that are simply not their fault. It’s one more way of taking the individual out of the equation for personal behavior.

    Simply put, this pseudoscience fosters horrendously bad habits. For in Japan, once the “blood type” equation is expanded beyond the allegedly “uniform and homogeneous society” trope, people become more susceptible to engaging in racial profiling towards “foreigners” — once the invisible genetic markers get expressed as visible phenotypical ones.

    In sum, dumb ideas with common currency dumb down an entire society. And personality typing by blood is one of the dumbest. Arudou Debito

    /////////////////////////////////////////

    OPENING SIDEBAR

    A minister quits

    In July 2011, Minister for Reconstruction Ryu Matsumoto resigned after being criticised for making insensitive remarks. He blamed his blood type.

    “I would like to offer my apologies for offending the people in the disaster-hit areas. I thought I was emotionally close to the disaster victims, but I lacked sufficient words and my comments were too harsh.

    “My blood’s type B, which means I can be irritable and impetuous, and my intentions don’t always come across.

    “My wife called me earlier to point that out. I think I need to reflect about that.”

    ===========================

    Japan and blood types: Does it determine personality?
    By Ruth Evans Courtesy of DK
    BBC News 4 November 2012

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20170787

    Are you A, B, O or AB? It is a widespread belief in Japan that character is linked to blood type. What’s behind this conventional wisdom?

    Blood is one thing that unites the entire human race, but most of us don’t think about our blood group much, unless we need a transfusion. In Japan, however, blood type has big implications for life, work and love.

    Here, a person’s blood type is popularly believed to determine temperament and personality. “What’s your blood type?” is often a key question in everything from matchmaking to job applications.

    According to popular belief in Japan, type As are sensitive perfectionists and good team players, but over-anxious. Type Os are curious and generous but stubborn. ABs are arty but mysterious and unpredictable, and type Bs are cheerful but eccentric, individualistic and selfish.

    About 40% of the Japanese population is type A and 30% are type O, whilst only 20% are type B, with AB accounting for the remaining 10%.

    Morning television shows, newspapers and magazines often publish blood type horoscopes and discuss relationship compatibility. Many dating agencies cater to blood types, and popular anime (animations), manga (comics) and video games often mention a character’s blood type.

    A whole industry of customised products has also sprung up, with soft drinks, chewing gum, bath salts and even condoms catering for different blood groups on sale.

    Blood types, however, are simply determined by proteins in the blood. Although scientists regularly try to debunk these beliefs, they remain popular in Japan. One reason often given is that in a relatively uniform and homogenous society, it provides a simple framework to divide people up into easily recognisable groups.

    “Being the same is considered a good thing here in Japanese society,” says translator Chie Kobayashi. “But we enjoy finding little differences that distinguish people. On the other hand, it can also lead to bad things being said about the minority B and AB types.”

    It was only in 1901 that the ABO blood group system was discovered by the Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner. His Nobel prize-winning work made it possible to identify the different blood groups, paving the way for transfusions to be carried out safely.

    Theorists of eugenics later hijacked his research during the inter-war years, with the Nazis using his work to further their ideas of racial supremacy.

    It was also adopted by Japan’s militarist government in the 1930s to train better soldiers, and during World War II, the Imperial Army is reported to have formed battle groups according to blood type.

    The study of blood types in Japan gained mass appeal with the publication of a book in the 1970s by Masahiko Nomi, who had no medical background. More recently, his son Toshitaka went on to promote it further through a series of popular books – he also runs the Institute of Blood Type Humanics. He says his aim is not to judge or stereotype people, but simply to make the best of someone’s talents and improve human relationships.

    Between them, father and son have published dozens of books on the subject, not just the handful of bestsellers.

    These beliefs have been used in unusual ways.

    The women’s softball team that won gold for Japan at the Beijing Olympics is reported to have used blood type theories to customise training for each player. Some kindergartens have even adopted methods of teaching along blood group lines, and even major companies reportedly make decisions about assignments based on employees’ blood types.

    In 1990 the Asahi Daily [sic] newspaper reported that Mitsubishi Electronics had announced the creation of a team composed entirely of AB workers, thanks to “their ability to make plans”.

    These beliefs even affect politics. One former prime minister considered it important enough to reveal in his official profile that he’s a type A, whilst his opposition rival was type B. Last year a minister, Ryu Matsumoto, was forced to resign after only a week in office, when a bad-tempered encounter with local officials was televised. In his resignation speech he blamed his failings on the fact that he was blood type B.

    Not everyone sees the blood type craze as simply harmless fun.

    It sometimes manifests itself as prejudice and discrimination, and it seems this is so common, the Japanese now have a term for it – bura-hara, meaning blood-type harassment. There are reports of discrimination against type B and AB groups leading to children being bullied, the ending of happy relationships, and loss of job opportunities.

    Despite repeated warnings, many employers continue to ask blood types at job interviews, says Terumitsu Maekawa, professor of comparative religion at Tokyo’s Asia University and author of several books about blood groups. He’s critical about sweeping popular beliefs about blood types.

    “We can point out some general tendencies as a group, but you can’t say this person is good or bad because of their blood type.”

    His own research, he says, is based more on empirical research rather than popular superstition. In his books he explores the theory that predominant blood types may determine religious beliefs and societal norms.

    In the Western world, O and A types make up almost 85% of people, but in India and Asia, B types predominate. Japan, he says, is unusual in Asia in that it has more variety of blood types.

    “A type societies tend to be characterised by monotheism such as Christianity and Judaism, with one fundamental analysis of human beings and a strong sense of societal norms. But societies dominated by B types are more prone to polytheism – like Buddhism and Hinduism – with lots of gods, and they think people are all different.”

    Professor Maekawa, himself type B, says in Japan his blood group is often criticised for being too individualistic and selfish.

    “It isn’t very nice. But it doesn’t annoy me or hurt me, because it has no scientific basis at all.”

    In a smart state-of-the-art clinic busy with lots of people donating blood, director Akishko [sic] Akano says he’s not aware that the negative image of certain blood types has an impact on their work, or dissuades minority B and AB types from coming forward. A bigger problem in Japan’s rapidly ageing society, he says, is persuading enough young people to volunteer as blood donors.

    In the next room, I find Masako, lying on a bed strapped to a quietly purring machine as a nurse takes samples. This is the eighth time she’s given blood. Her blood type is AB, which is rare as it accounts for only 10% of people in Japan.

    “People sometimes don’t like me,” she tells me. “They think I am weird and strange. Lots of people tell me they don’t understand what I am thinking about.”

    Although Masako laughs as she tells me this, it seems that in Japan, no amount of scientific debunking can kill the widely held notion that blood tells all.

    =====================


    CLOSING SIDEBAR
    What’s your blood type?

    The main blood group system is ABO, with four blood types: A, B, O, AB
    Rhesus system, for which you can be positive or negative, is the second most important with regard to blood transfusions.

    In total there are 32 recognised blood group systems, which all have either positive or negative indicators.

    The discovery of the latest two blood types – Langereis and Junior – were announced by researchers from Vermont earlier this year.

    Four books describing the different blood groups characteristics became a huge publishing sensation, selling more than five million copies.

    ENDS

    37 Responses to “BBC: Japan’s pseudoscience linking personality traits to blood types. I say it dumbs society down.”

    1. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      I love telling people that I’m K-type. “Everyone in my country has K bloodtype. Didn’t you know?” and stringing them along as far as their gullibility will allow. Hopefully they learn something from this.

    2. ben Says:

      Aah it would be great if just 1 gene and 3 alleles could determine human personality. Sadly we aren’t some simple in construction.

    3. “Japan’s pseudoscience linking personality traits to blood types” « The White Shadow: Japanese Immigrant Extraordinaire! Says:

      […] debito.org » Blog Archive » BBC: Japan’s pseudoscience linking personality traits to blood types…. This. But what else would you expect from a jus sanguinis society? Rate this:Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. Comments RSS feed […]

    4. Kirk Masden Says:

      The BBC also put this (or a version of it) in podcast form:

      http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/docarchive

      Scroll down to “Life Blood”.

      The podcast seems to contain information not included in the article. For example, I remember hearing something about merchants in Western countries beginning to market items to people of certain blood types but did see anything about that in the article (I may have missed it, though).

    5. Kirk Masden Says:

      Oops! I now see that the original article
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20170787
      contains a link to the podcast. I happen to subscribe to the podcast so I wasn’t aware of the print article until Debito brought it up.

    6. Eric C Says:

      It’s hardly surprising that this ludicrous theory is widely believed in Japan. Look at the various variety shows in Japan. They’ll often feature “scientific” inquiries into things like “why ramen is the ideal food for after drinking”. And they’ll have various experts on who support the notion, while the assembled “talentos” ooh and aah in wide-eyed appreciation (“ah so desu ka” being a common refrain, along with, of course, “ehhhhh”). When you educate and socialize a people not to think critically and not to ask difficult questions, all kinds of absurd and erroneous ideas can take root, and the blood type theory is just one of them. As you rightly point out, it’s just the tip of the iceberg of wider theories that are in desperate need of debunking: the whole Nihonjinron worldview.

      Of course, none of this should surprise us. Japan is a society that can be characterized as medieval. What I mean is this: it’s a society that never has the sort of revolution in thought that we now call the Enlightenment. All the ideas of individual rights, the importance of law, the need for empirical evidence or a scientific method and so on never came to the fore in Japan. In a word, the need to replace power relations and emotional thinking with rationality, was never felt in Japan. This manifests itself in all aspects of Japanese life, including, as we are presently discussing, the realm of ideas.

      It seems amazing to us that a medieval society should exist in the common world, even in the face of Western technology and constant contact with the West, but we should not overestimate the power of our tools to spread our message, or underestimate the height of Japan’s self-imposed walls – the cultural and linguistic sakkoku behind which they continue to isolate themselves.

      For anyone who doubts what I say here, I’d say merely look at how the legal system works (or doesn’t work) or try to engage a typical Japanese person in an intellectual discussion about anything that remotely touches on issues of “Japanese-ness” or Japanese history. Or have a look at the history of philosophy in Japan: it seems that they are incapable of separating philosophy from questions of national identity.

      As to why Japan never underwent an Enlightenment is a topic for another post, but I’d love to hear people’s ideas.

    7. Joe Says:

      It’s actually good in a backwards kind of way. I once got a big hug from a (lovely-looking) student because we shared O-type blood. “We’re the same!”, she said. Not “I’m Japanese, you’re English,” or “I’m Asian, you’re European,” but “We’re the same!” You’ve got to love that :)

    8. John (Yokohama) Says:

      When people in Japan ask me about my blood type I answer, “red”.

    9. Becky Says:

      I agree with Joe#7, it’s really handy. For example, Japanese people are usually horrified to learn that every single member of my family lives in a different country, but when I explain that we are all B types they relax. Apparently B’s are selfish and “strange,” therefore it’s not surprising that my family is so fragmented.

      By the way, I love getting people to guess my blood type. Most people get it wrong. The ones who get it right usually become my friends.

      – Yes, like all racialized typologies, they’re really “handy” when they work to one’s advantage. Not so much when they don’t.

    10. Becky Says:

      You may be surprised to learn of the slightly controversial “blood type diet,” which seems to have originated in North America and is quite popular with the diet-fad crowd. There’s even a best-selling book about it. I like the descriptions of the various blood types. (I’ve never heard of anyone being judged or criticised for having the “wrong” blood type in a Western country though, and it certainly would never come up as a job interview question.)

      Tangent: North Americans seem to be swift to publicly declare their own political affilations, and equally swift to judge anyone who is on the other side. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read advice columns that start with “He’s a Republican, I’m a Democrat, can this ever work?” or “My parent are threatening to disown me if I vote for ——” and so on. This would be unthinkable in Japan … and I don’t believe I’ve ever heard of a case where would-be parents-in-law rejected a potential suitor for being the wrong blood type, let alone belonging to the wrong political party.

    11. Chris Says:

      Yes at first I thought this was a little amusing, but now it really annoys me, for a country whose people are generally the most scientifically enlightened in the world it’s shameful when they embrace such superstitions. Really though it’s anther failure of the mainstream press to bring out the truth about it and not to tolerate what is actually racism (discrimination based on the DNA you have inherited) on TV and in the popular media.

    12. Jim Di Griz Says:

      Just a load of Nazi psuedo-scientific mumbo jumbo. The fact that the Japanese still haven’t learned that fact says a lot; the Japanese are enthralled by any bad science that will legitimize their racist world-view, and put other races in their ‘proper place’ in a perceived pecking order, and when there are no NJ to focus on, they will revert to making barriers amongst themselves; Ainu, Buraku, Zainichi, Jomon, Yayoi, Kansai, Kanto, A-type, B-type…
      It all stems from the insecurity regarding the idea of national identity. We know that the Japanese are no more special than any other group of people, but nihonjinron giron denies that fact and insists upon Japanese ‘uniqueness’. It’s a nice concept that, isn’t it? The idea that you are superior through birthright is attractive since it requires no effort. Unfortunately, since it isn’t true, nihonjinron giron relies on illogical ‘bad science’ (oh, that’s ok, it only seems illogical to you because you don’t have the ‘unique’ Japanese brain required to understand it- further proof of Japanese uniqueness is criticism of the bad science!), and often finds it easier to define ‘Japaneseness’ based on what it isn’t, rather than what it is, since they are defending an illogical position.

    13. Loverilakkuma Says:

      I’m losing my words with this absurdity. This is even worse than calling ID (Intelligence Design) as scienece. Are they condoning the practice of discrimination even among Japanese? Enough of this nonsense.

    14. Mike S. Says:

      My wife said that many people no longer believe that blood type affects personality. However, many people do seem to display personality traits which their blood type suggests they should show. For example B types do tend to be more passionate and wild. The reason for this, it seems, is that just knowing that you are a B, and that B types are supposed to be wild and passionate, may make you adopt those particular personality traits. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy I suppose.

    15. dude Says:

      Japanese calendars are marked with ‘good days’ and ‘bad days’ – so wedding planners will know which days are ok to get married on.
      There are good phone numbers, and bad ones.
      Good license plates, and ones to be less than proud of.

      Japanese society (to me) is full of gross generalizations, that only serve to over-simplify, and dumb down the population.
      But what would Japan be without the stupidity? Without the stereotypes? How would “Joe salaryman” get through endless, boredom filled years with only logic as his companion? This, I fear would lead to revolution. If Japanese people actually started trying to fix problems they see around them, rather than just uttering the time-tested “shoganai”, what would become of Japan?

      Seriously. Without this (admittedly lacking) framework, how could a typical company employee function? Would they start questioning their superiors? Would they question the seniority system that puts an idiot above them, forever, just because they are 3 months older, and entered the company earlier? Or went to the ‘right’ University?

      Would they question the logic of any of the thousands of ridiculous things spewed in J-media daily? When they heard that “foreigner crime” or “Chinese crime” is rampant, but no one they know has ever been the victim of such crime, would they start to doubt the trusted media? If you can’t trust the media about foreign crime, how can you trust them to tell you the truth about radiation levels, and what is safe?

      But I digress. Blood types. Yes, blood types give the average J-citizen the framework to understand themselves and others based on something out of their control – their blood type. If it is out of their control, then they don’t have to do anything. Thus inaction is accepted and allowed. If everyone’s blood type is out of everyone’s control, then “foreigner = crime” makes sense, to us…(don’t over think it).

      Those of you suggesting that this time-honored system be replaced with logic are just not getting it. If you teach the subjects to think, and ask questions, they may just ask the wrong questions, and start expecting more. How would this benefit the elite?

      I pronounce the ‘science’ of blood types here to stay. Until, of course, it is replaced by the next ‘science’…

    16. Eric C Says:

      @Becky: The comment about American political leanings is very much a tangent. It’s not equivalent to a belief that blood type somehow determines or effects personality. One’s political position is the result of conscious choice and reflects deeply held values and beliefs. Furthermore, it has direct consequences on one’s behavior in every sphere of life. I can definitely see not choosing to be with a person because of their political leaning, but I wouldn’t dream of not being with someone because of their blood type. As for the “blood type diet,” yes, a small minority of Americans believes in it, but it’s a tiny minority. Most have never even heard of it. In contrast, a LOT of Japanese believe the hokum about blood types.

    17. Eric C Says:

      I’d like to point out another widely held and totally ridiculous belief in Japan: The idea that Japan is the only nation on earth with four seasons. We’ve all encountered this too many times to count. It points up the same staggering ignorance and lack of common sense that underlies the belief that blood type determines personality. It also points up the degree to which most Japanese take in and then spit out ideas without any processing or critical reasoning.

      It really beggars the imagination that a people in the modern age could think that theirs is the only country with four seasons, especially when their country is awash with movies, calendars, travel posters etc showing other countries with fall foliage, snow, summer weather etc. I MEAN, DO THEY THINK THE COUNTRIES IN THESE IMAGES ARE STUCK IN THAT SEASON ALL YEAR ROUND? Have these people ever seen a globe and understood that there are two temperate zones wrapping completely around the earth?

      As I say, this common belief reveals an astonishing lack of common sense and deep ignorance. It shows just how the Japanese take on board and internalize ideas despite all evidence to the contrary. I wasn’t there when it was taught, but I’ve heard the result enough times to know that at some point in their education or upbringing, someone is telling them: “We Japanese are lucky enough to live in the only country on earth with four seasons.” Or, “Japan is unique: It’s the only country on earth with four seasons.” This is the “We Japanese are unique” theory applied to the land. And then they march out of their houses and classrooms, see posters of the European Alps covered with snow and they think: “Hmm…must be tough living in snow all the time.” No, that last bit is wrong. I’m afraid, they just don’t think. Whatever doesn’t match their received “wisdom” is totally ignored.

      Given this ignorance and lack of common sense, is it any surprise that we see the country heading in the direction it’s presently headed?

    18. Tic-Tac-thumb Says:

      Ah, how refreshingly Zen…to break the world down into three types of people….not…. It really is amazing that such a primitive concept can exist in such a technologically advanced society.

      But then again, sometimes artificial intelligence is no substitute for common sense.

      Once a belief sticks in Japan its there come hell or high water. I once saw a sign that said: “Do Not Urination Here”. Thinking I was being helpful, I took a marker pen out of my pocket and corrected it to “Do Not Urinate Here”. A few days later the sign had been replaced with a fresh new copy of the original “Do Not Urination Here” sign.

      So the Blood Type thing, like it or not, is here to stay, barring an invasion and forcible occupation of the country…

      It flies in the “Face” of wisdom- “Face” being the operative word to argue about self-evident falsehoods in Japan.

    19. Al Says:

      The whole blood type thing is just for entertainment, calm down folks. I seriously doubt educated Japanese take that seriously.

      However, other pseudo-science is definitely alive and well in Japan. Japanese aren’t intellectually curious, and just tend to believe things that are convenient to believe. And then of course we have the scientific and medical community in Japan, who really suck at doing proper research, and suck even worse at communicating scientific knowledge. Ever seen a university biology textbook in Japan? Would you even know where to find a decent one?

      Don’t worry, you don’t need to. Your doctor, or teacher, will tell you what you need to know and when you need to know it. And don’t you dare question them, regardless of how inadequate or unscientific their explanation is. See why it’s a perfect breeding ground for pseudo-science?

    20. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Eric C #17

      Ah yes, the ‘Japan is special! Japan has four seasons’ routine. To which I always replied ‘Japan has five, surely? Autumn, winter, spring, summer, and rainy season! Rainy season just like all other asian countries! England, now there’s a country with four proper seasons’. Ah, the deers in the headlights when I said that.

      I don’t know where they are getting the idea from in the first place, but the fact that they repeat it without questioning it says rather a lot about the myopic world view the speaker is holding. Waste of oxygen.

    21. Eric C Says:

      @JDG:

      I like that one! I’ll use it next time someone gives me the four-seasons routine.

      I rarely debated people or tried to enlighten people in Japan. Like you, I’d often just toss them a comment that would gum up the works – deer in the headlights is a good expression for the result.

      I believe that the lack of intellectual curiosity and rigor in Japan is a subset of the more general passivity. The question that I spend the most time thinking about is why the Japanese have adopted this incredibly passive way of being. The usual answers come to mind: hundreds of years under military government, bad education, living in small villages for most of their history etc. Still, I’m never totally satisfied with the answer. But one thing is for sure, this passivity of mind sure makes it easy for them to believe all kinds of tripe.

    22. Mike S. Says:

      I’m sorry this is going off track a little but I just want comment on the “Japan is the only country with four seasons” thing. I used to think that this is what Japanese people generally believed and while it may be true that some do believe this, the majority do not. Most people I’ve spoken to say that “Japan is the only country with very 4 distinct seasons of equal length”. This is what they believe makes Japan different from the U.K for example. From my experience limited English ability often results in the “Japan is the only country with 4 seasons” rubbish coming out, but when speaking in Japanese the same people explain themselves more clearly and say something a lot more sensible.

    23. Eric C Says:

      @ Mike S: Yeah, usually when Japanese declare that Japan is the only country with four seasons, I ask them to clarify their position and they do state that they actually mean that they believe Japan is the only country on earth with four distinct seasons of equal length. They usually provide me with excellent detail from the Meteorological Agency giving good raw data and valuable statistical analysis. They usually declare that they’ve actually visited places like the UK and New England, which are famous for their seasons, and done thoroughgoing independent research on the length of seasons and concluded that while it’s true that these places do indeed have four distinct seasons, in each place they’ve analyzed, they’ve discovered that one season or other is longer or shorter than the others, making Japan the only country one earth which has four distinct seasons of equal length. That’s what I love about the Japanese: their intellectual curiousity, their scientific rigor and their unwillingness to take received wisdom at face value. I’m happy to see that you’ve observed the same thing.

    24. Flyjin Says:

      Mike S, really? Autumn seems only about 6 weeks long. and what about rainy season? Surely 5 or 6 seasons in Japan, not 4!

    25. DeBourca Says:

      @Mike S,

      actually, it”s not sensible at all, it”s completely daft. The “distinct seasons” are not even uniform across the country. Traditional Japanese Shinto used to count at least six seasons (including midwinter and midsummer). The “seasons” are as distinct as the colours in a rainbow. What they REALLY mean is that the mass marketing culture timer that controls the county kicks in at precisely the same time evry year: April: cherry blossom time, sakura mochi on sale: June : rain: must buy umbrellas and wellies (even in snowy Hokkaido)October: Autumn beer (Which happens to taste exactly like summer beer but is packaged differently) and so on, year after year.

    26. giantpanda Says:

      @DeBourca – you forgot “winter beer”. My personal favourite.

    27. Baudrillard Says:

      DeBourca, thanks for thinking of a postmodern slant on the so called “traditional 4 seasons” cliche. Its all marketing, which has entered the collective postmodern psyche of the populace as “Japanese tradition”.

      Beer signals Autumn, now that is a postmodern symbol!

    28. Jim Di Griz Says:

      DeBourca has a good point about the seasons being linked to marketing, and I do believe that that is a major factor in the continuation of such absurd beliefs.

      I have been looking into the origin of this belief, and have found that even in the Meiji period, Japanese were remarking to themselves and NJ that Japan was special because it had four seasons. Is this because they were comparing themselves to other asian countries in an effort to mark themselves out as special? (umm, I don’t know, whilst Thailand, for example, does not experience the same kind of four climates, Korea certainly does). Perhaps this was a Meiji period affectation, and should be seen as part of the mimicking of ‘The Great Powers’ that Japan aspired to join at that time. The jury is still out.

      – Likewise the focus on blood types could also be part of national marketing (given the degree of generational profiteering remarked about in the article), although fewer industries benefit from it.

    29. Becky Says:

      I agree with MikeS#22. Whenever I mention the four seasons thing to educated Japanese people in Japanese, I usually get a weary sigh and remarks like “yes, we used to have four seasons, but now it seems like we only have two – summer and winter.” This is followed with a brief discussion about so-called global warming (I prefer the term climate change), and how it is a Very Bad Thing. Actually I like blowing people’s minds by telling them that Japan has at least seven seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter, interspersed with rainy season, typhoon season, and cherry blossom season!

      And in my home, every season is beer season.

      The seasonal changes are definitely starting to run together. It used to be that people changed their clothes over on designated days, now it’s more “do whatever makes you comfortable.” Hence last week, on an unseasonably hot day, I saw some people on the street wearing down jackets – idiots! – and others wearing light sweaters. This is something that would’ve been extremely irregular even ten years ago.

    30. Becky Says:

      Andrew#1 “I love telling people that I’m K-type.”

      Andrew, if you told me that you were Rhesus negative, I would believe you. And if you told me that the majority of people in your land were Rh negative, I would still believe you (keep in mind that I don’t come from a scientific background). Do you think I am a gullible person?

      Anyway, I don’t lie about my blood type to Japanese people. What I do is inform them that I didn’t know – or care to know – my own blood type until I was 17 years old! That really shocks them.

    31. Andrew in Saitama Says:

      Becky @#30

      If I told you I was Rh-, it would be perfectly acceptable to believe me. If I told you the majority of people in my home nation are Rh-, it should be difficult but not unreasonable to believe it. If I told you that EVERYONE in my home country shares the same NON-EXISTANT blood type, what would you believe.

      My other trick is to fib about my blood type and watch as people “see” those traits in me.

      Does anyone want to talk about the 72 seasons in Japan?

    32. MX Says:

      The idea that four seasons and the temperate climate are conducive to the formation of the ideal man who can thrive in cold and hot alike (and hence establish colonies everywhere) mostly comes from the French.

      I own some old French textbooks which are full with explanations about why the Inuit and the Africans cannot be as perfect as the four-seasoned French.

      It is then no coincidence that the Meiji era Japanese picked this one up, along with blood-type ideologies from Germany and Austria. The point was the prove that the Japanese were not “Asian” (whatever that nonsense category means — from Lebanon to Korea!), that they were inherently “modern” and “European” in their constitution and mentality.

      Having lived in India, I was delighted by the notion of six different seasons, which is relevant not just to their agriculture, but also to music and general aesthetics (theory of the rasas).

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ritu_(Indian_season)

      It would not surprise me if the original Japanese Shinto belief actually comes from India through Buddhist channels. In that case, we would have one hegemonic construct replacing another.

      But they may all be cultural constructs, ultimately — I don’t know how many seasons there are in Japan, or even in France.

      Now speaking emotionally and not as an academic — in spite of having grown up in Europe and lived in the US, there is nothing more delightful to me than tropical heat and uniform temperatures throughout the year, so, yes, I am very much biased against seasons, and I utterly hate the fall, wet leaves and bare trees and all.

      – I heartily agree on the preference for tropics. Having lived 42 years in snowbound areas for 4-6 months of the year, I would be perfectly happy never to see snow again.

      As for the historical account, thanks very much for sharing it! Very interesting indeed. It’s amazing how long the shadow of colonialism is in influencing current thinking patterns.

      Just for the record, could you give us the book titles and page numbers (no matter if it’s in French) sourcing those four-seasons-creates-the-colonizer ideas?

    33. MX Says:

      Unfortunately, I don’t have them at hand, as I am in the US right now and they are in Europe.

      These are school books from the 1950s and 1960s which I bought on my trips to France, including most notably the Larousse encyclopaedia for children from 1958, reprinted subsequently several times in France and translated into other languages. I first read it as a child in the 1970s in Yugoslavia, but I later purchased the original French.

      My own work focuses on the pre-colonial history of the Indian Ocean. Japan is somewhat marginal in that context, but I am very interested in how India and Indian concepts are often mapped onto Southeast and East Asia (e.g. the mount Meru).

      I mostly grew up in Germany, where the four-season idea is not very important culturally. But there certainly still were many moments when the metaphor of “foreign blood” was inserted into conversations about culture, although I think that has improved in the last decade and half.

      I will not be back in Europe for the next year, but if I am, I will scan a few sample pages to illustrate the point…

      Greetings and best wishes,

      M.X.

      – Would appreciate it.

    34. DeBourca Says:

      Just to add to this (very interesting) tangent, here is a link to the traditional 24 seasons in the Shinto year.

      http://eos.kokugakuin.ac.jp/modules/xwords/entry.php?entryID=1065

      MX : that’s an interesting thesis. Most modern States as we know them were created around the Meiji era, complete with radically reinterepted national myths.

    35. Becky Says:

      DeBourca#25
      “The “distinct seasons” are not even uniform across the country.”

      This is a very interesting point, one that leads to a more accurate observation: geographically, Japan is an incredibly diverse country. I mean, you’ve got snowy Hokkaido, tropical Okinawa, and everything in between in one long, narrow archipelago. Now that’s unique (and even worth bragging about). But try pointing it out to the average Japanese; most of them have never thought about their country in those terms before, although they are grateful to hear about it.

    36. Mike S Says:

      OK this is pretty dissapointing. This week i asked all my Junior High School classes a few questions re the whole 4 seasons thing. When asked “how many seasons are there in the UK?” not one student in any of the 15 classes i teach got the answer correct the first time. Most answers ranged from 1 to 3. I then proceeded to ask the same question for other countries which have 4 distinct seasons, such as France, Italy, China, America etc and recieved the same incorrect answers. I asked the same question 4 or 5 times to as many different students just to make sure it wasnt only the clever, eager to answer geeks that were misinformed. It seems most of them were. So there it is. I suppose they are only 12 to 15 years of age but if they already know and understand that Japan has 4 seasons (without having taken a geography class) why not just presume that other countries do too?? weird and definitely irritating. I told all my classes the correct answer and stressed that this is not something that is unique to Japan. Feel slightly less irked for doing so.

    37. Baudrillard Says:

      Becky, interesting point. Japan IS unique. Its just a shame that the “unique” label (Uniqlo? ha) they have been brought up to trumpet is the imposed, false, postmodern branding of Japan. i.e. repeated hearsay “Japan is unique as it has 4 seasons” propaganda.

      I am really hoping for the day I hear someone saying Japan is unique based on their own experience, e.g. “I traveled from okinawa to Hokaaido and the seasons were really diverse”, rather than the same rote memorized cliches and bytes that are almost certainly part and parcel of Nihonjinron indoctrination from Tokyo mandarin written doctrine and then imposed without a logical thought on the rest of the country.

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