In a highly readable column, Brent Staples of The New York Times says that American schools should look to the Japanese model as a template for success. Jenny D. says yes, Alexander Russo's This Week In Education says no, Jim Horn's Schools Matter emphatically says no, and Chris Correa says that we should study several other national school systems as well as Japan's in order to see what they can teach us.
One thing that seems to be overlooked by everyone is the fact that the Japanese are, for the most part, (A notable exception are the Ainu on the northern island of Hokkaido.) a homogeneous culture with one language, shared values, (such as teamwork, traditional respect for scholars/learning, and obedience to authority) and a history of strongly-centralized government, which serves to facilitate the implementation of National Content-Area Standards.
More food for thought.
Enjoy your meal.