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Do As Tokyo Does Blood
(Entered Mar. 11, 2008)
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If I was to ask you your blood type, how many of you would know what I'm talking about? If you're Japanese, you probably learned the answer to this before you learned to walk. There really should be a little blood testing booth after the immigration counter at Narita airport to prepare us foreigners, because it's as certain as sunrise that in the next 5 minutes some Japanese person is going to ask you what your blood type is. My blood type? What are you, a doctor or something?
However after 10 years in a country where not knowing your blood type is akin to not knowing your own birthday, it was starting to nag at me, Then there was the thousand or so times I've left the question unanswered behind me. Shouldn't I know? Maybe it's actually important? Everywhere I looked people were happily enjoying the fact that they were As or Bs, but there I was sadly bereft of knowledge. It was time for me to find out! But how?
The answer was shouted at me (literally) from across the street while walking through Ginza one day.
Blood is in demand here in Tokyo. Clinics have people out on the street with uniforms and megaphones, bowing to random people and rallying about the virtures of giving blood, etc. Was I really going to give blood just to find out my blood type? Well there was the novelty of the situation to consider, plus the fact that giving blood is a charitable thing to do right? Onward! I wondered though if they were interested in gaijin blood. Would they even want it?

give blood

I figured that giving blood probably wasn't like dropping off your dry cleaning, but I was unprepared for all the paperwork and tests I had to go through. Not only that, everything was in Japanese only. If it wasn't for the kind (and cute) nurse at the reception desk trying to help me, I would have bailed early on. I had to fill out forms with detailed questions on whether I had this and that disease, whether I was homosexual, if I'd been to Europe in the last month, where I took my last vacation, and anything else they felt needed asking. I was sent to a little booth where a doctor quizzed me on my answers and wanted information about the allergy medicine I was currently taking. I had to have my blood pressure measured while the same doctor frowned over the result, saying it was too high. I waited in waiting rooms more than a few times. The whole ordeal took more than 30 minutes, and I hadn't even rolled up my sleeve yet. I'd come this far though and they still hadn't told me to leave, so I figured either they were just humoring me, or I was going to be ok.
When my time to be tested finally came, I was tense with excitement. What was my blood going to be? With a grin the nurse testing me announced my blood to be type O, and I felt inordinately pleased, liked I'd just delivered a healthy baby or something. So what does it mean to be an O? According to Japanese blood superstition I'm supposed to be agreeable, sociable and optimistic, but also vain, careless and cruel. Very enlightening. What is really known about O blood is that it's generally the most common blood type in the world, followed closely by type A. Type O is known as the 'universal blood type' which means any person regardless of their own type, can receive type O blood. Ironically however, O blood people can't receive any type except type O. We're givers we are, us O people.
I wasn't done yet though, those little sips they took for the test were only a warm up. Next I was led to what looked like a dentist chair complete with a private TV showing some silly samurai drama, which I figured was supposed to take your mind off the fact that blood is furiously rushing out of your body. Here's the end result below. A 400ml bag of my precious blood to be taken away to some uncertain future... Queasy people might want to look away.

mike's blood

While watching the bag fill up I kind of wondered if I'd have any left after they were done. So did I take one step and fall flat on my face? Did I start screaming and convulsing in agony? Other people lazed around with a stupified look on the faces for hours after their donations, but I headed out right away (stopping only for the above picture, which the nurse found amusing) none the worse for wear. 400 ml of blood? Who needs it? I was more interested in the free Haagen Dazs and juice waiting for me in the lobby. I wanted to take more pictures but it's hard when one's arm has got needles and tubes sticking out from it.

haagen dazs and juice

So are there any other benefits to giving blood? Well I'm not sure why, but the blood clinic was chock full of hot young girls, and I'm not just talking about all the cute young nurses either. Maybe giving blood is the newest fad to strike Tokyo and I got in there just at the right time? If you're tired of the bar scene, and have tried all the other available options with no success (you know who you are), you might want to head over and hang out in the lounge of the blood clinic. Not sure what a good opening line would be though. 'Hi, what's your blood type?', or 'So, do you like needles?'. Improvise.



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