Train drivers in Japan have an almost innate sense of timing - like a well-prepared actor, they know their lines perfectly. After nearly three years in the country and thousands of train journeys under my belt, not once have I experienced a late one. I had heard of them, knew it must have happened, but never believed it would happen to me. It was something that happened to other people, like the man who knows a woman whose neighbour's first cousin had her bag snatched. As a rule, in this regulated but democratic society, the trains do not just run on time - they set the time. But when it comes to political attitudes, politicians offer opinions and trains of thought more suited to 1920 than the present day. Take, for instance, the case of Tokyo governor Shintaro Ishihara's asinine remarks on women. He said in a magazine interview last year that 'it's meaningless for women to live after they lose the ability to reproduce'. He continued in this misogynist vein by claiming that the worst thing civilisation had brought with it was the proliferation of 'old hags'. While there was not an uproar, 119 women aged 20 to 70 recently filed a lawsuit on the basis that the remarks would 'fan discrimination against elderly women'. In any other democracy, the comments would have condemned their speaker to political oblivion. But Mr Ishihara is still arguably the most popular politician in the country, and the night before the lawsuit was filed, he held a political fundraiser under a huge sign, 'For the sake of tomorrow's Japan and tomorrow's Tokyo'. As the banner suggests, he has set his sights on the prime minister's post. But the lawsuit represents a changing society in a very real sense. While Mr Ishihara has made some outlandish claims (notably targeting China as well as foreigners in Japan), he is not so accustomed to being legally challenged. And if he does run for the post of prime minister, the case will keep his remarks fresh in the public's mind. After all, this is a greying society. More than 36 per cent of the population are over 50 and are twice as likely to vote as the under-30s. Some 'old hags' would no doubt relish the opportunity to register their displeasure in the privacy of the polling booth. By even contemplating a challenge to the monolithic ruling Liberal Democratic Party, Mr Ishihara's stance verges on the revolutionary. Holding a fundraising event to advertise his intentions (allowing for the deliberate vagueness of the sign) indicates a shift in the political landscape. And in the same way that a delayed train may not be appreciated by commuters, it does signify that the old certainties may no longer be so dependable. Across a wide spectrum, there are indications that the country is changing - but the speed and direction of that change is still in dispute. Meanwhile, a country that is unused to delays waits in frustration for a new departure from the chill of political stagnation and gradual decay.