Living in North America, it is difficult to comprehend the cost of living and the limited living space in Japan. When I am in Japan and my friends in Japan say that they will pick me up by automobile for an outing or shopping, I just groan. It always means being cramped in a car for hours and high tension searches for parking.
With the enormous cost of automobile ownership in Japan, licenses, parking, fuel, and maintanance coupled with the world's finest public transportation system, the automobile represents a very foolish and extraordinarily expensive vanity for most Japanese people.
It is no surprise that automobile ownership is losing its luster in Japan. It is not so much a phenomenon as it is common sense.