"I've been mulling over the recent writings by Carlos from Japan and finally have to respond. I lived in Japan for six years in the 80s and now visit about 10 times a year on business. Here are my thoughts.
First of all, the situation is much more complex than was described. Japan is a highly regulated economy, things that sometimes seem to be obvious to do are often either formally prohibited or more often informally discouraged. I suspect some kind of regulation would be the reason there is no on line Apple store in Japan. I don't think there are any other on-line computer stores in Japan.
I believe that the vast majority of the population lives in the cities so I am not worried about a lack of exposure in rural areas. The greater Tokyo area has a population of about 16 million or so, about 15% of the total population.
The most important thing Apple can do in Japan is promote itself and present a product that people want to buy. Japanese consumers are the most brand concious and best educated in the world. Advertising and promotion are powerful tools to establish a brand identity. This is especially true with the market consisting of young women. They have a lot of disposable income and could easily afford an iMac. In fact, more than half the iMac customers are women. Producing a pink iMac or a "Hello Kitty" iMac with some bundled software aimed towards young women would help Apple immensely. I've seen trendy magazines with pictures of young women cuddling their iMacs on the magazine covers. This kind of promotion is invaluable. It is extremely important in Japan to establish a favorable "buzz".
With the current business retraction going on it is a great chance for Apple to grow. Capital spending has been slashed to the bone. This hurts Apple's competitors as they are stronger in this market than Apple. Consumers, on the other hand, seem to still have a fair amount of disposable income. The consumer market is where Apple is strongest so it is riding the right horse at this time.
Japanese consumers usually want to have the latest and greatest item (as long as it works as advertised, is easy to use and doesn't have any problems). Apple seems to be doing another good thing here by coming out with new iMacs at least every six months.
Due to the low interest rates in Japan the program to buy an iMac on time is a great deal in Japan. You wind up paying off the computer in about three years or so and the total finance charge is only about thirty dollars.
There doesn't seem to be a supply shortage of iMacs in Japan or any difficulty in buying them. When I go to Akihabara they are stacked to the ceiling wherever you go.
The deal where Canon distributed Macs didn't seem to be working. I think Canon wanted out. The idea to use the music chain store to sell Macs has some merit. There are a huge number of outlets around Japan so you get exposure, even in out of the way areas. Also, these stores don't sell other computers so you get less distractions. It remains to be seen if this partnership will work.
Overall, I suspect Apple is doing a fairly good job of marketing the products they have to sell in Japan. We don't know the marketing information they have available and we don't know what budgets are available for promoting Apple in Japan so we can only speculate if they are doing it right.
I'll get off my soap box now.