Americans who feel burdened providing military security for affluent Japan may find it odd that the Japanese complain about shoddy U.S. protection.

Japan is concerned that the quality of the U.S. military, like the quality of U.S. consumer goods, is slipping. Its main fear is that the 60,000 U.S. troops sent to Japan Because of their carelessness."The watchdog has become a mad dog," said Minister of Transportation Shintaro Ishihara after this string of recent U.S. military mishaps:

-A U.S. Marine Corps helicopter crashed less than a mile from a nuclear power plant in June.

-A U.S. Navy destroyer fired practice shells within 300 yards of a Japanese patrol boat in a busy channel near the mouth of Tokyo Bay on Nov. 9.

-Stray bullets from a U.S. military facility hit a Japanese residential area in October.

Ten years ago Japan may have quietly accepted these incidents as part of the cost of U.S. military protection. But the Japanese have changed. Their increased economic power has given them the confidence to stand up to the United States.

"Japan has come a long way in the last decade," said the retiring U.S. Ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield. "They no longer stand in the corner and bow their heads and remain silent."

And they are no longer willing to tolerate U.S. military blunders on their territory.

"Each incident could have caused the loss of civilian life," said an editorial in the Mainichi Shimbun, a major independent newspaper. "Don't they have any respect for human life?"

The Japanese media have suggested various reasons for the U.S. military mishaps, including poor discipline, low intelligence among servicemen, a declining economic base of support and "lack of moral concepts."

Japan's angry reaction is part of a growing desire to be more independent from the United States.

The incidents remind the Japanese that, despite all their economic muscle, they are still dependent on the United States for security.

"We are equal in economics and sometimes superior in high technology but never superior in security," said Yoichi Masuzoe, a professor at prestigious Tokyo University. "This gap is frustrating for some Japanese."

Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci has defended the alliance as a key ingredient of U.S. security.

Furthermore, Japan's contribution to maintaining U.S. troops - about $45,000 a year per soldier - makes it cheaper for the United States to station a soldier in Yokohama than Texas.