B Positive

August 10, 2009

In the West, by which I loosely mean “anywhere that is not Asia”, there is something of a methodology for getting to know new people. If you see someone you find attractive, based on their appearance or some other early impression, you try to find out some more about them to determine whether you share some interests and attitudes. For instance, you might be curious to know if your subject likes shopping, or sports, what kind of music appeals to them, who they supported in the last election, where they work and/or go to worship, what their hobbies are, whether they have a pet, and so on. One question you would almost surely NOT ask is the number one question that comes to mind for a Japanese person: “What is your blood type?”
“My blood type?” I responded, a bit nonplussed. This was akin to asking a woman her age, or worse yet, her weight, wasn’t it? “I have no idea. I think it is A or O. Why?” Why indeed. Throughout northeast Asia, at least (I can speak for Japan and Korea in particular), the issue of blood type is paramount in the ongoing search for a companion or sweetheart. There is an entrenched belief that blood type determines a person’s character and attributes in some form or fashion as yet uncharted by Western science.

To wit: a person of the B blood type is “ganko”, or stubborn, intent on having his or her own way. Bs are, by reputation (and in no particular order), narcissistic, artistic, musical, and quite literary. They are not particularly inclined to follow rules or to be especially organized. Common wisdom has it that a lot of teachers, writers and other learned people are of the B blood type, as are a large proportion of Japanese abroad. Bs do not get along well with As at all.

Blood type A folks, by comparison, are very organized. Their houses are clean and tidy, their CDs are arranged alphabetically, their lifestyles buttoned-down, even by the already subdued Japanese standards. They tend to be quiet and unassuming. They lean strongly toward obedience to the rules. They are the worker bees of Japan. They will eat miso soup, fish, rice and pickles for breakfast, and remarkably similar fare for supper. Unsurprisingly, an overwhelming majority of Japanese are of the A blood type.

O blood type individuals get along with everyone; they are the party animals of Japan, easily capable of forging close ties with people of all other blood types. You can find Os in the last train most nights, on their way home after an evening of drinking and karaoke with work colleagues. They have no problem eating cold pizza for breakfast, even though the pizza toppings might include potato chunks and corn. They are the gregarious souls most likely to occupy the vacant subway seat next to the barbarian foreigner, the ones least likely to be embarrassed by long-dormant English skills. They don’t complain much, and they enjoy life to the max, or so the story goes.

AB is the rarest blood type, both in Japan and the rest of the world. ABs are exceptionally clever, sometimes to a fault. They are said to be “many faced”, not unlike “two-faced”, only more so. They are politically savvy (no surprise there) and occupy a disproportionate number of positions of power, both in government and industry. I don’t know if there are hard numbers around these assertions, but all this is information that is well “known” among Japanese.

Oddly, the Rh factor does not come into play. An A-positive shares all the attributes of an A-negative, as is the case with the other blood groups.

If all this sounds a bit outlandish, it is certainly no stranger than arranging one’s daily choices via horoscope, which many Westerners do religiously. For my part, I am going to compile a list of friends and acquaintances, with my best conjecture as to blood type in the column next to each name. Then I plan to poll them and see how close my guesses are to reality. I suspect there will be an inordinate number of Bs, followed by a liberal sprinkling of Os.

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Barcode Dudes

August 10, 2009

You’ve seen them, to be sure, in Europe and the Americas, but never in the proliferation that they turn up in Asia: follically-challenged men who opt to comb their hair over from the sides, the back, or any place else from which it might reach (and more or less cover) the top of the head. Judging by the lengths to which they go to perpetrate this trifling fraud, they clearly seem convinced (albeit erroneously) that: a) nobody realizes that they don’t have a full head of hair (nudge, nudge, wink, wink), and b) this look is somehow preferable to the cue ball dome with which nature endowed them. They are the object of particular derision in Japan, especially among the younger crowd, who refer to them as “barcode dudes”, in reference to the marked similarities between an obvious comb-over and the ubiquitous black and white product identification coding that has become such a fixture in modern-day life. The degree of comb-over is the subject of animated and amused discourse as well: if you notice a man who parts his hair, say, an inch lower than normal, he might be a 70/30 barcode dude, whereas somebody who combs his hair up from the collar line in back or from just above the ears might be the dreaded 90/10, each set of numbers referring to the percentage of comb-over needed to achieve the dubious coverage. I have actually seen 100/0 barcode dudes on a couple of occasions, with hair on the left side doing a cotton-candy swirl across the forehead, heading rearward over the right ear toward the collar, then spiraling ever northward to the crown. The overall effect is not unlike that of a soft ice cream cone. Most strange.

The hairs on top of my own head began their southward migration when I was in my late twenties or early thirties, relocating in neighborhoods hitherto unoccupied by their brethren: my ears, my nose, my back, my knuckles, and my bathtub drain. A handful of hardy souls took up residence on the tops of my feet, the Tierra del Fuego of the human body, well below the ever-expanding equator, perhaps protected by its shadow. A few have remained behind on their home turf, to all indications planning to hang on until the bitter end, but clearly they are in the minority, and the chances of the ‘hood gentrifying and repopulating are exceptionally slim, I would think. Still, I am certain the survivors would be up-in-arms, and rightly so, if a comb-over, a transplant or a toupee were to threaten their resilient lifestyle. A comb-over, after all, is something of a fair-weather friend, ready to bolt at the first gust of wind or splash of rain. And who needs that?