In 1983, Time magazine looked at Japan and saw, to its astonishment, a "land without lawyers." "Most Japanese," said its report, "live — and die — without ever having seen a lawyer." Was this a country, or a mystic brotherhood? In the U.S. there was one lawyer for every 400 citizens; in Japan, one for every 10,000.

Whether Japan has matured since then or lost ground can be argued either way. The number of lawyers, in any case, has tripled. It's what the government wanted, and began working for in 2002. Law schools were established. The bar exam was simplified. Japan is a "land without lawyers" no longer.

It's hard not to smile, reading Time's coverage of 3½ decades ago. The reporters themselves must have been smiling. How pristine, how innocent, how freshly scrubbed and shining it all would have looked to them, hardened as they were by the gritty American free-for-all of winners vs. losers in a never-ending, often violent, always litigious struggle for life and its good things. In Tokyo, a typical police officer manning a koban (police box) is shown dealing with a typical complaint: "'Where's my pet monkey, Mimi?' squeaked an elderly woman wrapped in a bright pink kimono."