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

Filed under: — M.G. Sheftall @ 7:30 pm

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)…

Announcement: East Asian Libraries and Archives Wiki

Filed under: — K. M. Lawson @ 5:21 am

The Frog in a Well project is expanding. While we hope our three bilingual collaborative weblogs dedicated to the study of East Asian history will continue to develop and add more contributors, I would like to announce a new project that we are hosting here, the East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki, or EALA:

The East Asian Libraries and Archives Wiki

This wiki will serve as a central collection site for information about archives, libraries, museums, etc. in East Asia that are of potential interest for anyone doing research on or in East Asia. It will also include sections dedicated to other kinds of resources but its primary focus it to provide researchers with a good starting place and reference for information on sites they may be visiting. While many archives have websites, my experience has been that they vary significantly in quality, convenience, organization, and speed of access. Also, visitors to archives can often provide extremely useful information to future visitors that may not be of the kind you are likely to read on the archive’s official homepage. The two most important aspects of each archive entry will be: 1) Basic reference information that will help a researcher plan ahead for their visit and easily find links to more details 2) Provide a place where researchers may record their personal experiences in the archive. As a wiki, anyone will be able to edit the individual entries, update information that might be out of date, and record their own experiences.

The East Asian Libraries and Archives wiki was originally founded in 2003 and originally hosted in a similar form at Chinajapan.org. It was inspired by the Chinese archives website at UCSD which hosts a range of useful, if somewhat outdated information for students and scholars wanting to do research in the archives of China.

I hope that other students and scholars of East Asia will share some of their experiences and, as they conduct their own research will consider updating information available. You may read more about the site here, and there are numerous help files on how to edit and create pages on the site here. The wiki has links to a blank archive form (PDF, Word, and wiki formatted text) for convenient note taking on your visit. I have posted a few entries from my time in Japan, which I added to the original site in 2003-4. To get an idea of what kind of information entries can include, see for example the entries for International Library of Children’s Literature, the Ōya Sōichi Library, and the Yokohama Archives of History.

While it is off to a slow start, I would also like to take this opportunity to introduce the Frog in a Well Library, or the 文庫, where we will host various primary documents related to the history of East Asia: The Frog in a Well Library

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