I see a couple of trends in the way people are thinking/acting - one very welcome and one very alarming. The good news first....
Japan has always been a country of manners and most encounters with people were civilized (exceptions existed for sure - like people out of their element away on vacation who often decided not to bother being overly polite while away from their home area), but form was usually adhered to. Polite form is one element of a civilized society, but being overly formal can interfere with true communication and empathy when dealing with those who have come from afar. So, in the eighties, I often wished that people would relax more when interacting with me. Now, in the year 2006, I am realizing that this wish has been granted! Much more than before, it's possible to communicate with a lot of people in a relaxed, open, and informal way.
Now for the flip side of this trend....
Three times in as many weeks, while walking through a crowded station, I had the same type of encounter with three different angry-young-man types. Walking through train stations like Shinjuku Station (with vast numbers of people entering & exiting the station and vast numbers of people changing from one train line to another within the station), it's nearly impossible to avoid lightly bumping into a few people and being bumped into by a few other people as you walk through the dense crowds, but usually you try your best to avoid bumping into people and when the inevitable collision does happen, the two people generally nod, say a quick "Sumimasen" ("Sorry"), and go on their way (or just go silently on their way if there's no time for a nod). So, after 21 years of that scenario playing out over and over, I was a bit shocked to have an angry-young-man aggressively throw out his arm towards me as if to shove me with his forearm. It was an alarming moment, because he had a look of blood-lust in his eye and if I had taken a swing at him (which his provocation seemed to be begging for) then we probably would have jumped into the insanity of doing as much physical damage to each other as possible.
The next week, the same thing happened, and again the next, three different angry-young-man types, all with that outthrust arm and look of blood-lust in their eye. The provocation? None really, just the usual situation of accidentally getting into the same physical space in a very crowded situation. (Did a movie "hero" do some "cool" people bashing that way? It's just weird how they did exactly the same thing as though they were looking for a chance to try it, and it's something I had never seen in 21 years of being in the thick of things here.)
Well... there you go - nothing is free. One advantage often comes with the price of a new disadvantage. I'll enjoy talking with friendly types on one hand and be on the lookout for dangerous angry-young-man types when changing trains on the other.
Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon