Yesterday, during my brief walk from Tennoji subway station through JR Tennoji station to my workplace, no fewer than three people bounced off of me. One was a woman frantically typing a text message on her cellphone (携帯, keitai), and the other two were wearing tell-tale white iPod earphones. In all fairness, so was I, but although I saw them coming and slowed down, they made no sign of noticing or acknowledging me (even though one literally bounced backward when she collided with me, which was satisfying in its way). It’s been happening a lot lately.
Rush-hour commuting in a Japanese city is never a joy, but commuters, used to 45-second connection times and the cramped spaces of the trains and platforms, somehow make the best of it. Without obviously diverging from their routes, they rely on a sort of bat-sonar which keeps them from actually crashing into someone coming from another direction. Everyone follows their own little ant-path and gets to where they’re going in the shortest not-quite-trot possible. However stressful it must be to get to and from work, it’s amazing, really, how everybody does in so organized a way: few collisions equals no confrontation that can’t be solved with a little suimasen (‘scuse me).
Until now. Between the keitai and the iPod, a generation is coming of age without that sonar. Nobody seems to get angry at the passing college kid, whose body has collided like an errant Sputnik into a tiny old man (but whose brain is still rapping in katakana with Ludakriss). It must be irritating though, to those who know the drill and don’t need any more irritation. Of course, the kids (who are now significantly taller and more roughly-dressed than their intimidated elders) don’t want confrontation either, but their way of avoiding it is to tune out what they’ve done (rather, what has happened) and just keep ploughing on. I wonder what it’ll be like if and when folks come of age who aren’t afraid of confrontation.