“D-Mat” and the whole “blood type/temperament” thing…

Wondering if anyone else on FIAW has seen this article by David Picker in the NYT about Matsuzaka Daisuke’s blood type…

I don’t think Picker has gotten the straight dope about the origins of the Japanese blood-type obsession — and (surprise, surprise) I suspect the usual cosmetic smokescreens regarding Japan’s militarist past on the part of whoever the “buffer” (someone alert van Wolferen!) was who was feeding Picker his J-cultural background info.

Anyway, after hearing from my students here in Japan about the wonders of blood-typing practically since the day I stepped off the jumbo jet, I have long been interested in the origins of the whole blood-type-as-personality-indicator deal. From what I have been able to gather so far, this was NOT the brainchild of some 1971 journalist, as Picker attests, but rather, and as is the case with so much of what is glossed over today both for domestic and foreign consumption as quaint, innocuous, quirkily regimented aspects of Japanese society (e.g., “radio calisthenics”, morning 朝礼 motivational speeches at schools and workplaces, 回覧板 neighborhood association circulars, etc.), I strongly suspect it has its origins in Japanese militarism/mobilization programs of the early Showa Period.

Here’s the “real deal”, as far as I have been able to ascertain: in the 1930s, the Army Ministry tasked a university researcher (Kyoto, IIRC) to develop a quick method that could be carried out at draft induction centers to determine which conscripts would be most suitable for assignment to infantry units. The university prof, for some reason, latched onto blood type difference as promising data in this regard. Eugenics, of course, was very much in the air at the time — it being the era of the Nazis and cranial calipers and Social Darwinism and similar creepy, exploitation-legitimizing research. Moreover, as is typical of military bureaucracies everywhere, the Japanese were planning their next war on the expectation that it would be similar — if not identical — to the last, i.e., in this case, a combat environment along the lines of the Western Front in 1914-18 (which Japanese exchange officers had observed and had the you-know-what scared out of them — this experience was also very much the impetus for Yamagata Aritomo and Tanaka Giichi’s initial “総動員” {general mobilization} planning, of course) putting similar psychological stresses on its combatants. In other words, what they were looking for were recruits with the kind of thick-skinned, somewhat passive personality that would enable them to endure long months of immobility in trenches under enemy artillery barrages without turning into nerve-wrecked shellshock cases, and who could best be expected to unquestioningly follow orders to charge into sweeping machine gun fire. The professor determined that people with “O” type blood — whom the doctor characterized as being distinctly “cattle-like” in temperament — would make the best infantrymen for the next expected trenches/gas/machine gun war.

Not exactly the samurai sword-swinging swashbuckling “Type O” “warrior” of Picker’s imagery, is it? But then again, I have a hard time imagining “D-Mat” patiently hunkering down in a trench under an artillery barge without running to the nearest field phone to call his agent…

Anyway, the “science” of it all was — and is — pretty bogus, but several million Japanese Army conscripts brought the basic concept home with them after their service, and it has become a fixture in the national imagination ever since (as well as in former Japanese colony Korea).

This may explain why the blood-type-reading genre is relatively unknown outside of these two countries. Moreover, it has been my observation that most Americans, at least, don’t even know their blood type unless they are: 1) regular blood donors; or 2) are military veterans with vague recollections of an A, AB, B or O stamped onto their dogtags.

By the way, according to the old Imperial Army categorizations, as a nervous, obsessive/compulsive “Type A”, I would have been assigned — for my own good and that of others around me — far from the “sound of the guns” . So much for my childhood dreams of martial glory…(sigh)…


  1. Very interesting. I had heard some ideas that this dated back to the 1930s, but nothing in any detail. What sources did you use? This could be interesting to know more about, just in the general theme of August 1945 being less than the total change it is often made out to be.

    I too, being Type A (my J gf actually made me get my blood tested [she paid] just to make sure I wasn’t O!) would perhaps have been safe. However since the most common type in Japan is A, how would this professor’s results have pleased his superiors? Also, since As are said to be patient, reserved, orderly and disciplined and work well in chains of command etc, would not they have been better?

    Just for some minor added information on the Imperial Army’s use, Wikipedia Japan (not a source I would quote in a serious academic discussion, but good enough for a start) notes that: 大日本帝国陸軍でも上記の影響を受けて、血液型から将兵の気質・能力を分類し、部隊編成の際に最も適した兵科・任務に就けるようにとの考えから、各部隊から将兵の調書を集め研究が行われたが、期待した結果は全く得られず、また戦時大量動員の際には一々チェック・分類するのは不可能に近いため、採用されずに終わった。In other words, it didn’t work and would take too long to check anyway. So it would be interesting to see the extent to which the Imperial Army did this and their role in its dissemination.

    And as a totally pointless aside, I wonder if there is any tendency among the long-term resident Japanologist population (of Japan) – ie those who (a) like the ‘culture’ [rather than being here for the money] and (b) like living here for type A, the sort of blood type that would enable them to fit in better with a nation of A-types (if not in pratice, at least in ideals)?

  2. Overthinker,

    Been racking the old memory banks since yesterday trying to come up with where I originally read this, but it was many years ago, and now I can’t even remember whether or not I read it in English or Japanese (I seem to get a lot of that these days). The J-Wikipedia entry is heartening, though, as this matches up quite well with my account. Are there any sources or links at the bottom of the page?

    Interesting question about whether or not the profs “findings” that O’s make better grunts got anyone upset…Yes, A is indeed the predominant blood type in these parts, but O’s are not rare enough, I think, for the military types to have been overly discouraged. By the time of World War II, at least in the American Army, only something like one in eight soldiers had a “job profile” actually involving pointing a rifle at the enemy. The other seven were in service or support units — firing long range artillery, moving supplies, counting cans of beans, shoveling cow chips in Louisiana, etc. The contemporaneous IJ Army may not have been quite that logistically cumbersome, but fielding an ostensibly “modern” army on the battlefield, it couldn’t have been much less so, so I’m sure there were plenty of O’s to go around to replenish the ever-rapidly depleted ranks of the “kame no ko” (J nickname for infantrymen — “turtle offspring” — a reflection of the expected survival rate of the grunts, i.e., about as high as newly hatched baby sea turtles having to cover 100 yards of beach to the relative safety of the surf with hungry seagulls hovering overhead).

    RE: your last point, as a long-time resident of the archipelago, and assuming for the sake of argument that there is actually something to the J stereotype of the Type A as a fairly uptight, leaning-towards-obsessive/compulsive individual, it would seem that there are few societies on earth more A-friendly than Japan (btw, I’ve never lived in Switzerland, but I’ve heard they keep their stuff wired pretty tight over there, too, so I might give it a try someday).

    I knew I had found paradise when they started coming out with bacteria-resistant stationery goods here in the early 1990s, and I have always thought whoever invented the “umbrella condom” you get at the entrance to department stores was definitely cheated by the Nobel Committee.

    M.G. Sheftall

  3. The blood type thing also took hold in Taiwan.

    I’ve heard that blood type profiles specifically came from a Nazi doctor, but I don’t have any source on that. It is certainly believable that it was just the general mood of Nazi eugenics that inspired some Japanese doctor to do his own “research”.

  4. Roy-san,

    Thanks for pointing this out.

    Ditto prewar J-colony status for Taiwan, of course, so the theory about Japanese (or, in this case, proxy Japanese) servicemen bringing the idea home with them after demobilizing still hods. .

    If you have any more detailed info/sources on the Nazi angle, I’d appreciate it.

  5. Sorry. That should be “still holds”.

    Text keeps going off the right side of the monitor screen while I type, and I’ve never been much of a “touch typist.”

  6. Thankfully, I’ve never run into any adverse reactions to my O+ blood, nor has anyone ever asked. If anything, people are surprised that I know it at all, or just tuck it in the back of their memory.

  7. The blood-type obsession also took hold in mainland China and Korea too – like so many aspects of Japanese militarism, sadly. It’s strongest in Korea, but I’ve been asked in China.

  8. Interesting…I’m guessing that in China’s case the influence came via Korea and was NOT a result of admiration for the methods of the Imperial Japanese Army! 😉

  9. Eisuke, clearly if you are not entertained or do not find the content of this website educational, you are most welcome not to visit in the future. If you have something useful to contribute to the conversation, then your participation is also welcome.

    The blood type=temperament topic, I think, is one of deep historical interest, because it is an example of something which everyone in Japan or at least anyone who has spent any time in Japan will have experienced or knows something of, but which has a fascinating historical origin.

  10. “you are most welcome not to visit in the future. If you have something useful to contribute to the conversation, then your participation is also welcome”
    Yes you are right,for I have no intention of relating innocent bloodtype games with the
    revival of Japanese militarism in near future,I shall just leave the scene.
    I still think this is a great site though.

  11. Eisuke,

    The influence of past wars on present day societies is one of the most fascinating areas of the study of history, and as such, it is a perfectly acceptable, if not even desirable, matter for discussion on a history blog. To wit, Japan is not the only modern society whose rhythms, expressions and institutions have been indelibly marked by early 20th century mobilization, but topics on this site — for obvious reasons — will tend to focus on matters Japanese.

    As far as I can see, Eisuke, you are the only person here saying anything about “innocent bloodtype games” in the context of any kind of REVIVAL. The discussion has been about past origins — not future directions. Past…Future…Pretty critical distinction there, and one it would have behooved you to make before joining this thread.

  12. M.G and K.M

    You are right,I was upset and over emotioal,(and perhaps jingoistic)I take it back what I said in the previous posts.
    I fully apologize.

  13. MG, or was it Bucky, it has been a while!

    I would check to be sure no change has occurred with the stereotypes. My office-mates in Japan were shocked when I, at age 40 or 45 finally got my b-type checked and was told I am an “A+.” They assumed I was creative, arguementative (i do not think i am, but i am not sunao), pretty much went my way (really, I am more eager to work for the good of society than the company, which was their test for socialization), had a poison tongue exercised in my essays and translation-checks, etc. . I believe if I recall right, that I was supposed to be a type of B (or maybe O i cannot recall) like the guy from Kobe who was always doing manzai like arguments with others (to tell the truth, i felt sheepish next to him).

    From what you write about A, they probably would not have been surprised at my A. 敬愚

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