There's an old joke that sums up the mentality of the Japanese people that most people here seem to know and can laugh about, though I wonder how deeply they take it to heart:
As everyone knows, on its maiden voyage the luxury liner Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink. The captain realized that there weren't enough lifeboats to hold all of the passengers, and thus had to convince some people to stay behind. He entered a corridor where there was a British passenger, a German passenger, an American passenger, and a Japanese passenger all staying. The first door he knocked on was that of the British passenger.
"The ship is sinking," the captain said, "and, as you know, courtesy says 'Ladies first.'"
"I see," said the British passenger. "I shall stay behind."
The captain next knocked on the door of the German passenger. "The ship is sinking," he said, "and you have to stay behind. It's the rules."
"I see," said the German passenger. "I shall stay behind."
The next door the captain came to was that of the American. "The ship is sinking," the captain said, "and we don't have enough lifeboats. If you stay and let others go in front of you, you will be remembered as a hero!"
"You're right!" said the American with a burst of excitement. "I shall stay behind."
Finally, the captain knocked on the door of the Japanese passenger:
"The ship is sinking," he said, "and everyone else is staying behind. You might as well stay behind too."
There's more wisdom in that joke than in all the rest of my online ramblings about Japan put together.