From 1955 to 1964, Japan brimmed with life and energy, and while many people recall that decade fondly, it was also a time that made some people edgy and aggressive.
Novelist Aya Koda (1904-1990) wrote about her experience at Tokyo's crowded Ueno Station: "The train station teemed with ill-humored travelers who looked like they were itching to pick a fight."
While Koda was buying her train ticket, she went on to recall, someone gave her a rough shove from behind, cursing at her for her slowness. She turned around to meet the fierce glare of a "classic Japanese male of the old school," the personification of irritability.
Half a century has elapsed since then, but middle-aged and older men today still seem prone to lose their temper and yell at strangers in public.
Examples of such behavior are reported from time to time in the "Koe" letters to the editor section of The Asahi Shimbun. I remember one from two years ago about an elderly man in a public library, where a primary school pupil was helping the librarian at the counter as part of a school program. Pointedly ignoring the child, the man ordered the librarian: "Hurry up. I don't have time to waste." Everyone froze in shock at his rudeness.
Another letter described a scene in a JR train car. A young mother with her toddler in a stroller literally trembled with fear when an elderly man berated her. According to the letter, the toddler's foot seemed to have brushed against the man's trousered leg, and the man went ballistic.
Such an outburst of temper can deeply hurt the person on the receiving end, whereas the person who inflicted it may quickly forget it.
Anger is an important emotion, but being angry is not the same as "losing it." People with a low "anger threshold" lose their temper quickly, and a society where people lack the maturity to contain their irrational anger is a cold and ugly place.
Shozo Ogiya (1913-1992), who was hailed as a great editor in chief of the weekly Shukan Asahi magazine, often reminded himself that every angry outburst added another year to his age, while each laugh made him one year younger. Ogiya reportedly embraced this philosophy as a warning to himself, and was not proud of the fact that he continued to lose his temper even after his 60th birthday.
I felt compelled to write this column after witnessing an angry outburst firsthand. On my way to work yesterday, I saw a middle-aged man--my contemporary--yelling at a train station personnel. It is unfortunate that our society still has so many of these examples to learn from.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 13
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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