The major role of 'model plants' is to provide knowledge and technologies obtained in related systems to researchers studying crop plants. Lotus japonicus was chosen as a model system first for legume genetics and then for legume genomics. A large number of L. japonicus mutants that have alterations in legume-specific phenomena have been generated and phenotypically characterized, and genomics has drastically accelerated the molecular characterization of these mutants. Substantial resources of information and experimental materials, including genomic and cDNA sequences, corresponding DNA libraries and high-density linkage maps demonstrate that L. japonicus is an excellent model system. Transfer of knowledge from L. japonicus to other legumes, especially crop legumes, is a matter for urgent consideration.