I had only been in Japan for nine months and had recently broke up with my long-term American girlfriend. It was my birthday and I was pretty much alone in Japan: No girlfriend, no close friends, and no neighbors I knew because I just move into a new apartment. Further, my Japanese was terrible. So I went out to celebrate my birthday alone — first time in decades.
I sat by myself at the bar at Studio 54 on Karasuma-dori in Kyoto. A Japanese guy came and sat next to me and soon after, struck up a conversation to practice his English. “Harro ! I am Jiro” he said, in the same drone I had heard hundreds of times before.
“Hi”, I replied curtly, not excited to have yet another generic conversation on this evening. “What is your blood type?” was his next surprising question.
I would run into that question several times in the coming months before I actually made an effort to understand the reason for the question. Other intro questions common to Japanese in a bar had been: “Nice weather, eh?” or “The Sumo match tonight sucked, didn’t it ?” I was to find out that this question was like an American asking “What is your [astrological] sign?” as a way to share a conversation about each other’s personality types.
“Urani”, in Japanese, means “divination” but it is broader — it refers of ways to obtain information beyond the obvious means of the vehicle of inspection. Here are some examples.
- 手相占い – Palmistry
- 人相占い – Body-Shape Divination
- 血液型占い – Blood-Type Divination
- 夢占い – Dream Divination
- 風水 – FengSui (arranging our environment to maximize fortune)
The character used is: 占 which is composed of the top pare: 卜 (which is the divination rod, and actually means the same) plus the bottom part: 口 which means “mouth” –> Speaking what is divined.
Back to the chap at the bar: He was trying to open a conversation about “blood-type divination” which neatly divides all people into 4 convenient personality types: A, B, AB, and O types. I actually just found a fun blog post that explains it well — see Maggie Sensei’s cute post.
Well, back to my conversation with that Japanese guy at the bar: “I am A-type”. I told the stranger. “Naruhoodoo (I get it). Yappari (as I expected).” he replied showing that we had already exceeded his English. The conversation died because neither of us spoke the other’s language well enough and I went back to my beer. The night ended lonelier than it began.
Every country loves divination — and the simpler, the better. Superficial Western Astrology types divide the world into 12 personality types — all the people born in March, for example, have the same personality. Some Americans will use this newspaper-column astrology mentality to start a conversation about personalities — well, only if they feel their sign matches their personality.
Real Astrologists of course claim that at minimum, in addition to the sun sign (available by just knowing the date of birth) they need to the rising sign and the houses of all the planets for which you need the time of birth. Without that, a real Astrologist would say, you can’t even begin to really understand a person’s personality and the how to help navigate the future to increase fortune. Never mind that all research shows that is bunk.
So, on-the-street astrology of friends who read the newspaper astrology columns divide people into only 12 types — essentially, people born in the same month have the same personality. Yeah, right! But if you think that is audacious, the on-the-street astrology in China sees everyone born in the same year as having the same personality! They have 12 year cycles with each year given an animal name: 12 Animals, 12 personalities. They have a more elaborate model with 5 elements and thus 5 X 12 = 60 personality types. But it is a similar easy way to divide make personalities easy to talk about.
On an important side note: In Chinese astrology, girls born in the year of the “Fire Horse” are suppose to become rebellious, proud women which are hard to marry off. Consequently, Chinese history is full of stories of infanticide of girls born in that year. Ouch! False beliefs can have horrible consequences.
Are there Scientific ways to categorize personalities? “Science” enters and we have the dearly loved MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) — a personality test revealing 16 types of people on the planet. It was all the fad of the administrators at the State University where I was a graduate school professor. And when I questioned the sacred cow of these academics, I met with no small disdain. Read this Wiki article and be sure to read the “Reliability” section.
Humans love “urani” (divination). We all want to know all about ourselves and others. We all want to gain fortune and avoid misfortune if possible. It is no wonder such a huge number of systems evolved.