Just thinking about taxis. I can't remember where I heard it, but "just ask the taxi drivers how the economy is, they’ll tell you!" is a suggestion I once got from someone whom I thought should know.
During my visit in December ‘07, the answer was "ma ma" - meaning just OK." In January ‘08, it was "warui" – meaning bad. (I have never heard them say "bochi bochi" – meaning just OK in the Kansai dialect.) I am not sure if this downward trend is a leading or lagging indicator, nor am I certain how much of a heads up we might be getting, but the mood is more of an uncertainty than just plain crappy like it was for most of the nineties. I’ll do the survey again when I am there this month.
I’ll tell you what though, the transliterated form of the words Sub Prime Mortgage have made it into common everyday Japanese. I have been openly asked many times how bad it really is. I am always amazed that I disappoint if I do not know these things. As if I would know. When I was younger I used to carry on like I did know. Then someone else whom I thought should know told me that "it is better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool, than to speak and prove yourself one".