Blood, Sweat and Type O: Japan's Weird Science
The New York Times
By DAVID PICKER--Published: December 14, 2006--In the end, the Red Sox apparently decided to spend more than $100 million to get the Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in a Boston uniform for the next six seasons, a daring financial outlay for an athlete who has never thrown a pitch in the major leagues or sampled the mildly insane rivalry between the Red Sox and Yankees.
For intrigued baseball fans in the United States, Matsuzaka's relevant statistics are no-brainers: 26 years old, 6 feet, 187 pounds and a 108-60 record with a 2.95 earned run average in eight seasons with the Seibu Lions.
But what many fans, the Red Sox front office and even Matsuzaka's determined agent, Scott Boras, may not realize is that in the eyes of the Japanese, Matsuzaka’s most revealing statistic might be his blood type, which is Type O. By Japanese standards, that makes Matsuzaka a warrior and thus someone quite capable of striking out Alex Rodriguez, or perhaps Derek Jeter, with the bases loaded next summer.
In Japan, using blood type to predict a person's character is as common as going to McDonald’s and ordering a teriyaki burger. The association is akin to the equally unscientific use of astrological signs by Americans to predict behavior, only more popular. It is widely believed that more than 90 percent of Japanese know their blood type.
"In everyday life in Japan, blood type is used as a kind of a social lubricant, a conversation starter," said Theodore Bestor, a professor of Japanese studies and anthropology at Harvard University. “It’s a piece of information that supposedly gives you some idea of what that person is like as a human being.
"Japanese tend to have a fairly strong kind of inherent belief that genetics and biology really matter in terms of people’s behavior. So I think Japanese might be much more predisposed to thinking about a kind of genetic basis for personality than most Americans would."
Thank goodness he talked to Ted Bestor--that at least salvages the piece from being merely one of a long line of "those goofy Japanese" entertainments that we know have a habit of hitting the front pages every once in a while.
Had the author a fairer sense of Japan (hope springs eternal), he would understand that talking about a person's blood type is not so much a mark of Japanese uniqueness as a sad reminder of the poverty of Japan's fields of polite conversation.
Which is what I hope Professor's Bestor's comment conveys.
* Thank you also for not alluding to the names of 1970's pop bands in your article titles.