Much of the English language commentary on Japan's PL Law over the 1990s lacked a full historical perspective (e.g. Green 1996; Melchinger 1997), a broad comparative perspective (e.g. Dauvergne 1994), or sufficient attention to both legal and social science dimensions (e.g. Maclachlan 1999, 2002). This chapter begins by sketching the evolution-and sometimes the revolution, or devolution-of PL in the US, the UK and the EU, and Australia (see generally Howells 1993). It introduces the importance of the legal, notably the contrasting types of cases and doctrinal approaches underpinning legislative initiatives in the US, and the UK or the EU, along with the hybrid situations in Australia and Japan. It also shows parallels in the politicization of PL law reforms particularly since the 1960s (in the US), the 1980s (in the EU), and the 1990s (in Australia and Japan), as well as a tendency back to more pro-defendant regimes in the US and (very recently) Australia, contrasting with gradually expanding pro-consumer stances in Japan and (especially now) the EU. This lays some broad comparative foundations for the chapter's later detailed analysis of the 're-birth' of PL in Japan since the late 1980s, which rebuilt from 'still-birth' in the mid-1970s; and for Chapter 3's more detailed black-letter law comparison of the PL Law with the present regimes in the US, the EU and Australia.
The origins of Anglo-American PL law lay primarily in the development of the notion of 'implied warranties' attendant upon the sale of goods, particularly that they be of 'merchantable quality' (Stapleton 1994:9-16). By the end of the nineteenth century, this obligation was firmly established, and indeed-though for unclear reasons-as one attracting strict liability, so that a seller could not escape liability by showing due care had been taken in supplying the 'unmerchantable' goods. Further, it had been extended to buyers who were consumers, as well as those in business. However, as a perceived corollary of the doctrine of 'privity of contract', courts did not allow them to go outside the contractual chain. Consumers, for example, were restricted to claims against retailers who sold them the goods, and manufacturers were not directly liable. Bystanders outside any contractual chain, such as children harmed by