I think of this as a continuation of this article about the dawn of Japanese space exploration, so you might want to read it if you haven't yet.
Decades after Japan's first satellite, it came by a long way.
Last year, the space probe Hayabusa returned a sample of the rock in an asteroid, Itokawa (told you it would come up later! It was named after the scientist.) and brought that back to Earth! It was a first in the history of mankind, to bring back sand from another asteroid. Not only did it complete a nearly impossible task, it also put to use the newly-developed ion engine and tested its capabilities. They're even making movies about Hayabusa, it was really a nationwide sensation.
There is also the HTV(H-2 Transfer Vehicle) launched from Japan with the H-2B rocket, which is an unmanned resupply spacecraft to the ISS. For now, all the HTVs have performed flawlessly in space. (well, not to mention they have launched only 2 of them yet...)
I think JAXA, the space agency in japan, is ready to develop manned capsules. They have most of the technology needed already at hand. I hope Japan will keep its position as one of the leading nations in space exploration for decades, maybe centuries.