There are a number of reasons why Japan, as a country, is pretty isolated, in past history, even more clearly than nowadays. First of all, there is the geographical situation, seen from a European point of view it is even further away than China, on the opposite side of the world, even though on the same hemisphere. In addition, island states earlier, were quite often inclined to keep to themselves. In Europe, Great Britain may be seen as an example.
The centuries-old feudal system also supports the trend. It was not until the Meiji replaced the Bakufu government in 1867 and restricts final the rights of the samurai. The State is exempt from corruption, the Emperor gets back its position kept until today. The hopes for liberation from rigid hierarchies grow also up to the countryside.
Through it the country remains poor and severely constrained by the nature. Only one rice crop is possible per year. Without discipline and mutual help is lost even the. In house rules the oldest man the his rights pass to the firstborn with strict upbringing. Actually, there is no chance to think outside of the box of the the village community.
Asians do not, (often thankfully) wear their hearts on their shoulders anyhow, and also hardly show any expression indicating what they really feel. Many Japanese are affiliated not only to one religion, this allows, at least, the conclusion that their roots are deeper than, e.g., those of the average European. However, one must probably also differentiate here between young and old.
Only since about 1850, were the first tentative commercial relations with the USA. The first means of transportation taken over from Europe, was the railway, this however, with much more success than the motor-car later. It was here that the, in the future, important relations with Great Britain, which delivered locomotives and carriages, developed. About 1900 the railroad network was completed and is an important part of the Japanese economy.
Particularly states which are distributed over several islands, have the advantage of being able to transport material easily by ship within the country. Therefore, the road system was, around the turn of the century, and also for a long time thereafter, absolutely underdeveloped. Moreover, these islands are of volcanic origin, which increases the danger of earthquakes considerably. One often hears that many Japanese have had to rebuild their houses three times in one lifetime.
Thus the foundation of the Mitsubishi company was primarily based, on the building of warships and a little later, in the 19th century, also merchant ships. The company has only been building motor-cars, with great success however, since the mid 20th century. In the interim there was the iron ore trade with China, and the development of the Japanese heavy industry. With increasing mechanisation, the 'Japanese economic miracle' developed with enormously increased exportation of textiles and many other ready-to-use products, as well as ships and locomotives.
There were an unbelievable amount of attempts to establish the motor-car in the first half of the twentieth century. Also American manufacturers are to be considered, however, their tests can all be seen as failures. One of the biggest problems seemed to be the supply of tyres, of the very few vehicles in existence, each one seemed to have a different tyre-size. Trading and importing did not pay dividends, so that, in a very short time the vehicle was useless.
The manufacturing of trucks seems to have been a little more lucrative. At least this was subsidised by the government, who bought themselves thus, the right to be able to use these vehicles in the case of emergency for military purposes. However, the especially light transport vehicles and taxis were more successful. They adapted themselves better to the narrow traffic conditions in high-population Japan. Much later still, e.g., a car could only be bought, if one could prove that one had a parking bay for it.