One thing I noticed with my time in Japan is that not only are cars more suited to their use, but work trucks, trucks used by companies and such, are usually very small, mini-trucks that're just packed very efficiently. Very infrequently did I see a truck the size of an F150 or some other "smaller" pickup, and when I did they were often hauling cement mixers or something else very matching the truck's size.
In the US our priorities are just mixed up.
Japan has been resource constrained throughout the industrial age while the USA has always had tons of resources to exploit. In Europe I know that the "old medieval" cities have narrow meandering streets that do not lend themselves to big cars. In Japan I would think that the issue would be similar. After WWII, Germany had all those tiny Messerschmitt bubble cars to get people moving until they could rebuild, but for Japan it makes sense for that niche of car to stay (the Kei-Car legislation giving them a boost too).
Well, honestly, Japan didn't really get cars until the 60s and 70s, so it's something the developed a bit more down the road. Most urban settings cars just aren't necessary at all, so I think when people "splurge" on the drive they are just a lot more stingy about it.