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Type casting

Second-generation blood-type expert Toshitaka Nomi looks at the links between blood classifications and health. Mick Corliss reports.

As any resident of Japan soon learns, blood type means more than, well, blood type. Here it is a window into personality, an indicator of behavioral tendencies and a conversational lubricant all rolled into one. Skeptics shrug it off as superstition, but proponents fully embrace the idea that blood type can suggest amorous compatibility and human disposition.

But beyond izakaya chit-chat, one leading blood-type expert is trying to decipher how a few simple letters-A, B, O and AB-translate to health issues from constipation and cancer to physical ability and longevity.

"The relationship between blood type and personality or behavior has been discussed for a long time, but as it relates to health and illness we really only have indirect reports and limited data," explains Toshitaka Nomi, director of the Blood Type Humanics Research and son of Masahiko Nomi, who wrote the seminal book Ketsuekigata de Wakaru Aisho (Understanding Compatibility from Blood Types). Nevertheless, Toshitaka has carried on his father's work with a recent book that delves into health, physical aptitude and blood type.


Blood ties
Today, the links between blood type and human constitution are widely studied and followed-the most popular example being the bestselling diet book Eat Right for Your Type by Peter J. D'Adamo, said to be followed by celebrities such as Liz Hurley. But it was Masahiko Nomi who was largely responsible for jumpstarting popularity of blood type in Japan with the publication of several books dealing with the topic in the 1970s.

Japan is a particularly intriguing study ground for blood types, with the population breaking down roughly into 30 percent O, 40 percent A, 20 percent B and 10 percent AB, compared to European and American populations that are 80-90 percent O or A. Inspired by a blood-type chart shown to him by his sister in high school, Masahiko spent 30 years observing people and compiling data to prove his theory about the links between blood type and human disposition.

His son's latest work, Ketsuekigata: Kokoro to Karada ni Kiku Jiten (Blood Type: A Guide for the Body and Soul), was an attempt to draw attention back to the family's so-called Blood Type Humanics research field some 20 years after Masahiko's death.

Researcher and author Toshitaka Nomi discusses the relationship between blood type and longevity, immunity and athletic ability

"My most recent book was an appeal to the government-the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry-to earn its understanding, and to encourage cooperation in compiling data," Toshitaka says, noting that without government help, there is no way to tabulate data systematically or en masse.

Minus reams of government data, there are only reports from medical practitioners, small surveys and a few studies to go on, Toshitaka explains. But his preliminary research has uncovered certain tendencies among the four blood types.
"In terms of all-around health, it would appear that O types are superior," he says. There are certain enclaves of longevity in Japan such as Shiramine Village in Ishikawa Prefecture, where most villagers are O types, Toshitaka says, adding that Okinawa-the prefecture billed to have the highest average lifespan-also has the nation's second-highest percentage of O-type residents at 33 percent.
The upbeat attitude associated with Os (who are also more likely to be left-handed) could also be key to their long life, he speculates: "Sometimes O types will really lose it, but O types are good at switching mental gears and moving on. They don't retain so much stress."

At the other end of the spectrum are A types. Typically viewed as high-strung busybodies, they seem to have a penchant for constipation and high blood pressure, Toshitaka contends.


Cell mates
Toshitaka also believes that blood type-related immunity issues lead to cultural behaviors peculiar to nations or regions. He speculates that this could explain why O type-dominant societies, like the United States, have an affinity for the tactile-think shaking hands and back-slapping-while a bow may suffice in an A-dominated society like Japan, which he alleges may have a collectively lower immunity.

Certain blood types might also excel against certain illness. "For some reason B types seem to be less susceptible to cancer, and even if they do get cancer, they do better at fighting it," he says.

Studies have indicated there is an acquired "B blood type" phenomenon in which O- or A-type cancer patients experience a surge of B-type blood. Explains Toshitaka, "I suspect that B-type blood is more resistant to cancer and that as a living entity the body is just pulling out all of the stops to survive."

A mountain of blood type-related books, including the latest Nomi release reveals the topic's popularity

Toshitaka is also convinced that blood type can be a predictor of physical ability. He points to data that indicates the ten most successful power hitters in Japanese baseball history have been nearly divided between O and B blood types. "Only one of Japan's all-time Top 10 homerun hitters is an A blood type, while nearly 40 percent of the Japanese populace is A blood type."

But despair not. A types are considered more suited to the long jump or the marathon. "A types have a perfectionist bent, so they do better to think long-term and not to set specific targets that could lead to disappointment," Toshitaka says, noting that such blood-type driven personality characteristics could predispose some to succeed on certain diets.

O types, for example, benefit from a specific target while B types might want to inject their diet and fitness regimen with some fun, such as dance or aerobic exercise, and logic-driven ABs could benefit from a detailed diet and exercise schedule.

Some believe there might also be a correlation between blood type and suicide or mental illness, but these themes are stymied by a dearth of data and interest in more upbeat issues.

In any case, blood type as an indicator of many things is deeply nestled in the Japanese psyche. But longtime Japan watcher Mark Schilling warns against placing too much stock in its claims: "If this O writer had listened to the Nomis, he never would have married his type O wife and had his two type O children. And, oh, what a loss that would have been."

Read more about Masahiko and Toshitaka Nomi's work at
and about blood type in Mark Schilling's book The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture.

Photo credit: Mick Corliss

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