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An overly brief and misleadingly simple history of the evolution of Japanese legal institutions would begin with the proposition that a century and a quarter ago Japan was a feudal society. By "opening" to the West, Japan was forced to "modernize" (Westernize) its laws. As a code system is easier than a common law system to impose wholesale on a society, the continental European civil law countries served as a model for Japan, which patterned its codes primarily on the civil code of Germany and the criminal code of France. After defeat in the Second World War and subsequent occupation by United States forces, both an independent judiciary and an adversary system were superimposed on Japan's code system. This article surveys the changes in the Japanese judiciary in their social context.