Last month, Ford Motor Co. announced it would leave Japan by the end of the year, claiming the country has a "closed" market. American car companies have been complaining about Japanese protectionism since the 1980s, and gradually won concessions that resulted in greater opportunities for foreign automobiles in Japan, but they seem to have benefited manufacturers other than American ones.

It's true, as the Ford spokesman told reporters, that the Japanese government helps domestic carmakers, but there was something about his tone that implied Ford never expected much from Japan. It only sold 5,000 cars here last year, and demographics being what they are, even if all the so-called barriers were lifted tomorrow, that figure likely wouldn't rise much. So it's best to get out while the getting is good.

Domestic manufacturers don't foresee much improvement in Japan either, which is why they're concentrating on overseas markets. Toyota enjoyed ¥2.3 trillion in sales in the U.S. between April and December last year, representing a 9 percent increase in operating profit over the same period in 2014. The company recently announced it would make Daihatsu a subsidiary in order to take advantage of the company's expertise in the kinds of small cars that can be sold in emerging automobile markets.