I can't claim to speak as an expert on Japan, but I thought that some might be interested in reading my thoughts on things Japan could improve. This is staggered with the publishing of my list of 8 unmistakable pleasures of Japan. For your comfort, posted in parts. Far too long as a single list.
Okay, given, they are some of the best in the world, (from what I've seen) but this bears saying. Railways everywhere could improve, a lot. Japan has the least excuse because they are so renouned for the speed, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of their railways. How it still remains possible to transport two people in their own vehicle at a lower cost and higher speed than transporting a trainful of people over the same distance remains a mystery to me. If I want to get ten people from point A to point B, even if the trains run along the same route as the people do, even in Japan, it will cost me about two people's train fare to pile everyone into two cars and drive.
That brings to mind one of the simplest things that could be done to make train travel more popular - perhaps not in Japan, where almost everyone rides the train alone - but everywhere. Introduce discounts for smaller groups. If I want to drive from point A to point B, it costs me almost exactly the same amount to transport one person as it does to transport five. If I want to transport five people from point A to point B by train, it costs me exactly five times as much. Certainly, the cost decreases very little less for the train company to transport five individuals than one group of five - but wouldn't it make more sense for them to compete with cars, if they want the business? Also, we must remember, it does cost them a little less - less time at the ticket machine, less time with a ticket-handler, and likely, less time at the station, since five moving as a group move more efficiently than five individuals. Also, and this is a major point, it costs them less in missed stops. Five as a group are less likely to miss a stop than one of the five individuals, especially with the incredible Japanese ability to sleep on the trains.
Speaking of train companies, what exactly is the deal with separate train companies? They don't actually compete, because none of them run on the same tracks, except in a few exceptionally busy areas, and, frankly, they just get confusing. To fill the unaware in, there are five major train companies in Japan, JR, JR West, JR East, JR North and JR South. To make things more confusing, JR West handles trains mostly in the South, JR handles trains in the Tokyo area and betwen Tokyo and Kyoto, JR East handles trains in the North (All the way up to the tip of Japan). Where they all come together, in Tokyo station, five train handlers come together in one station, with very little guidance as to which goes where, and how to get to their respective ticket machines. In addition to this, there are innumerable local lines of both subway and above-ground trains, which often require exiting one station to walk across the street to another. In Kyoto, several subway stops are located about a block from the stops of local trains, which are located another block (and blocks in Kyoto are suprisingly long) from the bus stops.
I suppose I was just disappointed, as I had been led to expect more. In Japan, I paid about $14 per person to take a local train from Narita airport, about an hour and a half ride, to Tokyo station. There, the train was packed. In Italy, I paid about $8.50 per person to take a ride of the same distance in an hour, from Pisa to Florence. There, the train was newer, nicer, and less crowded. In Japan, we paid $8 per person each way to take an fifty-minute train ride from the suburbs into the city. In Los Angeles, with its famously terrible public transport, I paid variously $11 per person for a (one day) round-trip ticket from the suburbs to the city. (A great convenience) in a much, much nicer train. In Kyoto and Tokyo, I paid something around $5 per person per trip to take a local train for single short (~20 minute) rides. For the same price, I could get a one-day pass on the "local trains" of LA, or a three-day pass on the local trains around Rome. For a country renouned for the efficiency of its local transit, Fail, Japan, Fail.