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  • ABC News (USA) finally breaks the story about Japan as haven for child abductions

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on February 27th, 2008

    HANDBOOKsemifinalcover.jpg
    Hi Blog. Here’s a magnificent article from ABC News (USA) about how Japan remains a haven for child abduction after a Japanese-NJ marriage breaks up.

    Long-overdue attention is given one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets–how NJ (who have no Family Registry) have essentially no parental or custody rights in Japan after a marriage breaks up. And how Japan refuses to take any measure to safeguard the access of both parents to or the welfare of the child under the Hague Convention (which it refuses to sign).

    I met Paul Wong during my speech last December at the upcoming film documentary on this subject, FOR TAKA AND MANA. Glad he’s gotten the attention his horrible case deserves. I too have no access to my children after my divorce, and I’m a citizen! Bravo ABC. Get the word out.

    More on this issue on Debito.org here.
    Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    //////////////////////////////////////////////
    Spirited Away: Japan Won’t Let Abducted Kids Go
    American Parents Have Little Hope of Being Reunited With Children Kidnapped to Japan
    By RUSSELL GOLDMAN
    ABC News (USA) Feb. 26, 2008
    http://www.abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/story?id=4342760&page=1
    Courtesy of Damian Sanchez

    Kaya Wong’s parents never imagined they would be able to have a baby.

    Born two years after her mother was diagnosed with cancer, Kaya, now 5 years old, was a miracle.

    But for Paul Wong, Kaya’s father, the unimaginable soon became the unthinkable. Months after the cancer fatally spread to his wife’s brain in 2005, Kaya, he says, was kidnapped by her maternal Japanese grandparents.

    Despite being his daughter’s sole surviving parent, he has few options available to him as an American in Japan, a historically xenophobic country that does not honor international child custody and kidnapping treaties. It’s also a nation that has virtually no established family law and no tradition of dual custody.

    He knows where his daughter lives, where she goes to school and how she spends her days, but despite the odd photograph from a family friend, he has not seen his daughter once in the last six months.

    Wong is one of hundreds of so-called “left-behind” parents from around the world whose children have been abducted in Japan, the world’s only developed nation that has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

    ‘Heartbroken’

    There are currently 39 open cases involving 47 American children spirited away to Japan, a key American ally and trading partner, but many more go unreported. Not a single American child kidnapped to Japan has ever been returned to the United States through legal or diplomatic means, according to the State Department.

    “This entire experience has left me heartbroken,” Wong told ABCNEWS.com. “We always wanted children. My wife and I talked about starting a family for a long time, but because Akemi was sick we kept having to wait. When Kaya was born, I promised my wife that we would move to Japan so that our daughter would know about her Japanese heritage and Akemi, despite her own illness, could care for her elderly parents.”

    Wong, a 41-year-old lawyer, says he does not regret keeping his promise to his ailing wife, but his pledge set into motion a series of events that have kept him from seeing his only child.

    “She’s very energetic, outgoing, active, inquisitive innocent little girl. She is simply perfect, and sweet as can be. She is not afraid of anything,” he said of his daughter during a phone interview from Japan. “I’m breaking up just thinking about her and talking about her. She loves to laugh and has a smile just like her mother’s.”

    Kaya was born in San Francisco in 2003 and is a dual citizen of the United States and Japan. The young family lived in Hong Kong, with Akemi making occasional trips to California for treatment until she and Kaya moved in with her parents in Kyoto, Japan.

    Abuse Allegations Common

    For more than a year after her mother’s death in December 2005, Kaya continued to live with her grandparents, with Wong visiting monthly from Hong Kong as he worked to find a job that would allow him to move to Japan.

    Once he found a job and was preparing to move, however, things suddenly changed.

    “Once I moved to Tokyo last year, the grandparents did everything possible to keep Kaya away from me. When I said I’m taking her back, they filed a lawsuit against me filled with lies and claimed I had sexually assaulted my daughter. There are no facts and the evidence is completely flimsy.”

    According to Wong, with the exception of one long weekend in September 2007 when he took his daughter to Tokyo Disney, her grandparents were present every time he was with Kaya.

    He said that a Japanese court investigator found that the girl was washed and inspected every day after a swimming lesson at her nursery school and her teachers never noticed signs of abuse.

    ABCNEWS.com was unable to contact the grandparents Satoru and Sumiko Yokoyama, both in their 70s. State Department officials would not comment on the specifics of this case, but a spokesperson said that allegations of abuse were not uncommon in some abduction cases.

    Kaya’s grandparents are elderly pensioners. Under a Japanese program to stimulate the birth rate, families with young children receive a monthly stipend from the government, one reason Wong believes the grandparents have chosen to keep Kaya.

    Though Wong’s case is unique in that most child custody disputes result from divorce not death, his is typical of the legal morass in which many left-behind parents find themselves. He has spent thousands of dollars on legal fees and makes regular appearances for court hearings, but his case, like many others, remains stalled.

    American parents quickly learn that the Japanese court system is rather different from that of the United States.

    There is no discovery phase, pretrial disclosure of evidence, or cross-examination. Lawyers for each side simply present their cases before a judge.

    Furthermore, there is no concept of parental abduction or joint custody. The parent or family member who has physical custody of the children, generally the Japanese mother or her family, is granted legal custody.

    “Fundamentally, people believe that Japan must have a legal system available to deal with child custody and similar problems,” said Jeremy Morely, an international family lawyer. “In reality, however, there is no such system.”

    “Family law is very weak in Japan. There is also a cultural perception that a Japanese child is best off in Japan with a Japanese parent. Boiled down, the law is: Whoever has possession has possession and the other parent should mind his own business,” Morely said.

    Culture Clash

    Culturally, there is no concept of dual custody or visitation. Once a couple gets divorced, the children are typically assigned to one parent and never again have contact with the other parent.

    After divorcing his then-pregnant wife of four years in 1982, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi retained custody of his two eldest sons, Kotaro and Shinjiro. His ex-wife Kayoko Miyamoto took custody of their unborn son, Yoshinaga Miyamoto. Since the divorce Miyamoto has not seen her two eldest sons, and Koizumi has never met his youngest son, Yoshinaga.

    Against this cultural backdrop, American parents seeking custody find themselves in an endlessly revolving door of hearings that go on for years and yield no results.

    Paul Toland, a commander in the U.S. Navy, estimates he has spent “well over $100,000 in attorney’s fees” for the last five years in an effort to get back his daughter.

    Toland’s daughter was taken by his ex-wife to live with her parents in Tokyo while he was stationed in the country in 2003 and he has not seen the girl since.

    He began fighting for custody of his daughter Erika, 5, when she was just 9 months old. When his wife, Etsuko Futagi, committed suicide in September 2007, Erika’s maternal grandmother got custody.

    “I feel real frustrated because I’m in a holding pattern,” said Toland, 40, who lives in Virginia. “It has been a nightmare trying to get through this.”

    Possession Is Key

    Though Toland is his daughter’s sole surviving parent, judges in countless hearings have upheld the cultural imperative that it is in the child’s best interest to stay with whomever she is with at that moment.

    “Whoever has custody when they walk into court has custody,” Toland said. “Judges never want to disrupt the status quo. There is no enforcement of the law because there is no teeth in the system. Police won’t intervene because they say it is a family matter. Every judge knows that and rules in favor of the status quo because he would lose face if he ordered something that would never be followed through on.”

    For now, Toland can only wait and keep trying through the courts.

    He said he regularly sends “care packages  big boxes full of presents and videotapes of me reading her children’s books.” Since he does not know whether those videos ever make it to his daughter, he keeps copies locked in a strong box to give her if and when he finally gets custody.

    He has considered kidnapping Erika, but says the girl is under her grandmother’s constant supervision.

    “Parental abduction is not a crime in Japan, but taking a child out of Japan is a crime. It is legal to abduct my own kid in Japan, but it’s a crime to take her back home with me.”

    His parents have each just turned 80 and have never met their granddaughter.

    “It is a crime to keep my parents from knowing and loving Erika,” he said.

    ‘Countries Disagree’

    With the legal and cultural cards stacked against them, many Americans turn to the State Department and politicians for diplomatic help, but to little avail.

    “On most things Japan is an important partner,” said Michele Bond, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Overseas Citizens Services. “This, however, is one issue where we greatly differ. Left-behind parents often engage in a fruitless campaign to get back their children.”

    The State Department, she said, regularly raises the issue of international abduction and Japan’s refusal to join the Hague Convention, a 1980 international treaty on cross-border abductions.

    Other countries, particularly Muslim nations that practice Shariah, also have not joined the treaty, but in many of those cases the United States has worked out agreements, or memoranda of understanding, to allow for the return of children. There is no such memorandum with Japan.

    “We engage with the government of Japan at every opportunity and bring it up all the time. We try to raise the visibility of the issue and make them aware that this is not the tradition in other countries. Progress has been slow but we are hopeful to find a solution that respects both cultures and everyone’s rights, especially the children,” Bond said.

    The State Department currently has 1,197 open cases of child abduction involving 1,743 children worldwide.

    Bond said many cases of abduction to Japan go unreported because families know there is little the U.S. government can do to help.

    Legislative Efforts

    “Culturally, the Japanese are not disposed to deal with foreign fathers. The law does not recognize parental child abduction. Criminal extradition is limited because they don’t recognize that a crime has taken place,” she said.

    Despite efforts on behalf of U.S. legislators to contact Japanese diplomatic officials, Wong has received no word of a change in his case.

    In April 2007, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., sent a letter to President Bush about child abduction on the occasion of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the United States.

    “I am very concerned over Japan’s lack of assistance in these cases and urge you to insist that Japan cooperate fully with the United States and other countries on international parental child abductions. Furthermore, I hope you will press Prime Minister Abe to support the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction and to implement a formal two-parent signature requirement for obtaining passports for minors,” the letter stated.

    The Japanese government would not comment on specific cases of child abduction and in an exclusive statement to ABCNEWS.com never used the word “abduction.”

    “We sympathize with the plight of parents and children who are faced with issues of this kind, which are increasing in number as international exchange between people expands,” reads a statement from the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C.

    The embassy said that the Hague Convention was inconsistent with Japanese law, but that joining the convention was still under review.

    “Regarding the possibility of Japan’s joining the Hague Convention, we must point out that [the] Japanese legal system related to child custody is quite different from the underlying concept of the Hague Convention. Japanese courts always take into consideration what the best interest of a child is with respect to each individual case, while the Convention provides the relevant judicial or administration authorities in principle [to] order the return of the child, unless the limited exceptions apply.”

    Few Successes

    Left-behind parents are used to hearing similar language from Japanese judges and American diplomats relaying messages from their Japanese counterparts.

    “We strongly believe that it is in the best interest of a child to have access to both parents,” said the State Department’s Bond.

    She said a child has never been returned to the United States as a result of diplomatic negotiation or legal wrangling, and knew of only three cases where children were reunited with their American parents  “two in which the parents reconciled and one in which a 15-year-old ran away.”

    Michael C. Gulbraa of Salt Lake City is the father of that 15-year-old, his now 17-year-old son Christopher. Christopher returned to the United States in 2006, and calling him a runaway undermines years of careful planning by his father to ensure that if his son wanted to get out of Japan he would be able to.

    After Gulbraa and his wife divorced in April 1996, she gained custody of Christopher and his older brother Michael K. Gulbraa.

    In 1999, when the boys were 8 and 9 years old, Gulbraa learned that his wife’s second husband was under investigation for abusing his biological son.

    After months of investigation by court-appointed guardians and experts, his ex-wife, Etsuko Tanizaki Allred, feared she would lose custody and took the boys to Japan in 2001.

    In 2002, the court gave Gulbraa custody and charged Allred under Utah law with felony custodial interference and a federal international kidnapping statute. Despite the international warrants for Allred, Japanese courts did not require her to return their children to Gulbraa.

    “That’s how things remained until July 2006. I did everything I could think of. I even petitioned the Vatican to intervene,” he said.

    In 2006, Christopher contacted him via text message and said he wanted to come back to the United States. Since his sons were kidnapped, Gulbraa had been working on a plan to get the boys emergency passports and onto a plane with whatever help U.S. diplomatic officials could legally provide.

    One Who Escaped

    When the boy’s mother learned of the plan, she took his cash and identification, making the train trip to the consulate and obtaining a passport all the more difficult.

    Gulbraa will not disclose quite how his son got the money for the train, but said he had traveled to the Osaka consulate and provided it with photos of the boy and questions only he could answer in order to confirm his identity.

    “Chris said he was going for a bike ride and got on a train from Nagoya to Osaka. We had to work through his not having any money or picture I.D. In late August 2006, he got home with the help of every agency of the U.S. government involved. From the consulate in Osaka to the embassy in Tokyo, everyone did everything to get him home without breaking the law.”

    For Gulbraa being reunited with his son is bittersweet knowing his older son, Michael, remains in Japan.

    Today, Gulbraa supports other left-behind parents and continues to petition the U.S. government to ensure kidnapped American children are reunited with their rightful guardians.

    “It is mind boggling that we kowtow to an ally because we are worried about trade and beef exports, when people’s children are being torn from them. Abduction is abduction and it needs to stop.”
    ENDS

    25 Responses to “ABC News (USA) finally breaks the story about Japan as haven for child abductions”

    1. debito Says:

      SPEAKING OF ABUSE: TANGENTAL ARTICLE ABOUT TREATMENT OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, THE PROPONENTS OF THE ANCIENT “IE SEIDO” (HOME/FAMILY SYSTEM), AND CURTAILMENT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH:

      ————–
      Domestic violence law faces backlash
      02/23/2008 IHT/ASAHI
      BY SATOMI SUGIHARA, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
      http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200802230097.html
      Courtesy David Hearn

      Efforts to end domestic violence under a revised law are facing a backlash, with critics claiming the legislation leads to punishment of innocent men, promotes “radical feminism” and “destroys families.”

      The opponents of the law say the current system allows some to divorce their partners by falsely claiming abuse, while others argue that a certain level of violence is “natural among married couples.”

      Last month, a planned lecture on preventing domestic violence was abruptly canceled by the municipality of Tsukubamirai, Ibaraki Prefecture, after a citizens group urged the city “not to use public money for an event that is biased.”

      The lecture by Kazuko Hirakawa, a member of the committee of specialists for the Council for Gender Equality and also head of the Tokyo Feminist Therapy Center, was set for Jan. 20. But it was scrapped at the last minute after a letter was sent from a Tokyo-based conservative citizens group “Shuken Kaifuku o Mezasu Kai (society to seek restoration of sovereignty).”

      The letter accused the law, enacted in 2001 and revised twice, of “destroying families” and urged that “counter comments also be presented on an equal standing” if the event were held.

      The letter continued: “Instances of ‘violence’ that are not serious in nature, but simple and single, are natural among married couples. The idea of ‘eliminating spousal violence’ is a display of radical feminism.”

      The city received about 100 protests by telephone, fax and e-mail. After a small demonstration was staged in front of city hall, the city canceled the event on Jan. 16.

      “We decided that both the lecturer and participants might face an uncomfortable situation,” one city official said.

      Days later, a high school in the neighboring municipality of Tsukuba also canceled a lecture on violence between couples.

      But the city of Nagaoka in Niigata Prefecture stayed firm and allowed Hirakawa to speak, even though it faced similar protests.

      “Just because there are opposing views, that is not a reason to cancel,” a Nagaoka official said.

      Hirakawa said: “It’s obvious that Tsukubamirai is being too weak in bowing to violence, although the city is not aware of this. I doubt anyone will want to seek help from this municipality.”

      Critics say the main problem with the law–which spells out the responsibility of authorities to protect victims who say they have been abused–is that it contains a loophole allowing unscrupulous women to falsely claim they have been beaten by their husbands, hoping to win an advantage in divorce proceedings.

      Under the law, when a victim comes to a shelter saying she has been beaten, the decision whether to grant emergency protection to her lies with the director of the Women’s Consulting Office in each prefecture.

      The director assesses the victim’s physical situation, her economic well-being and risk of being subjected to further violence and decides whether to provide protection.

      However, the director does not have the authority to conduct an investigation to verify the woman’s claims, which would require filing a criminal complaint with police.

      The backlash in Tsukubamirai, meanwhile, has prompted some advocates and local politicians to demand the lecture take place. They are concerned that such protests could lead to greater resistance to efforts to prevent domestic violence, long a hidden problem in society.

      “Opponents of the domestic violence prevention law argue that the law ‘destroys’ families, but it is the opposite. Domestic violence destroys families. The law is there to prevent that from happening,” said Chizuko Ueno, a professor at the University of Tokyo graduate school and an expert on gender issues.

      Shuhei Nishimura, head of the group that protested the lecture, says he never intended to force the cancellation of the event.

      “I didn’t expect them to cancel. Hirakawa has as much right to be heard as those who oppose the law,” Nishimura said.

      A 43-year-old man who heads a group calling for a “real domestic violence prevention law” says his organization represents people who have either been falsely accused of spousal violence or say their rights have been unreasonably curtailed.

      “I agree that true victims of domestic violence should be protected. But I would like people to realize that there are some people who would take advantage of the law (as it stands),” he said.

      The group is demanding that the system be amended so that the claims of both sides are presented before determining whether domestic violence had been committed.

      They also want to see provisions added that grant parental visitation rights to the party accused of abuse.

      But improving the rights of husbands accused of beating their spouses may not be easy.

      “During discussions with the accused attacker, there is a risk that the whereabouts of the victim could be revealed (and thus put the victim in danger of further attacks). From the standpoint of the law, that would be a problem,” said a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare official.(IHT/Asahi: February 23,2008)
      ends

    2. DR Says:

      To even the casual observer it would appear that Japan has sunk to a level of social autism, certainly in comparison with other G7 countries. Alex Kerr aptly described it as entering the surreal realm of Escher and Kafka, Reality is only what morons like Hatoyama, Komura, Ishihara and Mori et al proclaim it to be. (Utsukushi-kuni! Yosh!)
      In the area of family law, and the rights and duties of parents, Japan is adrift at best and malicious in its racist homogeneity at worst. That well meaning NJ parents are not permitted recourse for visitation rights itself is a crime. And a state sanctioned crime at that.
      Outside of countries like Sudan, Sierra Leone or Liberia, I can honestly say that I’ve never heard of such abuse of children as I have in Japan. (Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to be endemic here.)
      NJ’s have no access to their children, but J are free to abuse at will, and they do. Even other people’s kids. Case in point, today’s news:
      http://www.japantoday.com/jp/news/429401
      “10-month-old girl assaulted by woman at supermarket in Tokyo.”
      And in the most delicious irony, the headline above is followed by this one
      http://www.japantoday.com/jp/news/429320
      “Komura calls for ‘fair handling’ of Miura by U.S. authorities.”
      And on the issue of spousal abuse, news just breaking as I type (Fuji TV news): J man, 60, just arrested for assaulting a Filipina woman (relationship not clear) in Hamakita, Shizuoka-ken. It’ll be interesting to see if that story makes NHK mainline news!
      Anyway, somebody in Nagata-cho is growing and using! They’ve started to believe their own press-releases!

    3. icarus Says:

      I’m not sure if you can consider a lack of visitation rights an issue of racism. The system here just isn’t set up for that kind of procedure, so while you can probably criticize the system for its lack of foresight in terms of parental rights, I don’t think you can say it’s negatively directed only at NJ.
      Probably the best way to illustrate this is former Prime Minister Koizumi. I think it says a lot that he has never met his youngest child and that his wife never meets with the older children. Divorce as a common practice is a new trend to Japan and I don’t think the laws are currently geared to handle its consequences.
      Child abduction is a different matter, but I don’t think all of these things can be clumped together so easily.

      —————————
      –Where did I use the word “racism”? Not everything that goes up on Debito.org is a matter of racial discrimination. I hope you’re not saying that we have no complaint just because Japanese also get denied visitation rights, and that just because “the system here just isn’t set up for that kind of procedure”, that it shouldn’t be.

      I will say that the lack of a koseki for NJ puts them at a distinct disadvantage in Japan vis-a-vis child custody (NJ have no “family” for their children to be recorded within). That’s incontrovertible. Source:

      http://www.debito.org/index.php/?p=9

      MULTINATIONAL MARRIAGES COME OFF WORST

      What makes this situation especially difficult for international, and especially intercontinental, divorces is that foreign partners have extreme difficulty being granted custody of children in Japan. In a March 31, 2006 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, lawyer Jeremy D. Morely, of the International Family Law Office in New York, stated:

      —————————————-
      “Children are not returned from Japan, period, and it is a situation that happens a lot with children of international marriages with kids who are over in Japan. They do not get returned. Usually, the parent who has kept a child is Japanese, and under the Japanese legal system they have a family registration system whereby every Japanese family has their own registration with a local ward office. And the name of registration system is the koseki system. So every Japanese person has their koseki, and a child is listed on the appropriate koseki. Once a child is listed on the family register, the child belongs to that family. Foreigners don’t have a family register and so there is no way for them to actually have a child registered as belonging to them in Japan. There is an international treaty called the Hague Convention on the civil aspects of international child abduction, and Japan is the only G7 country that is not a party to the Hague Convention.”[1]
      —————————————-

      [1] Interview, Canadian Broadcasting Company, March 31, 2006, http://www.crnjapan.com/articles/2006/en/20060331-japanambassadorinterview.html
      ends

    4. icarus Says:

      Sorry, the “racism” comment I was referring to is in this comment by DR:

      In the area of family law, and the rights and duties of parents, Japan is adrift at best and malicious in its racist homogeneity at worst. That well meaning NJ parents are not permitted recourse for visitation rights itself is a crime. And a state sanctioned crime at that.

      Debito’s post examines the difficulties facing child custody for NJ, which I agree with, but DR reduces that argument to a simple “racist” level. I agree that Japanese policies regarding family law need serious revision, but I disagree with the idea that they are doing this maliciously. The system just isn’t in place yet for international relationships.

      –Gotcha. Thanks.

    5. Tony Says:

      Out of curiosity, what happens when the grandparents mentioned in a couple of those cases die? I mean, in their 70s-80s, who knows what’ll happen. Where would the child go then? The next nearest Japanese family member (who could be as obscurely distant as uncle joes highschool friends brother in law)?

    6. Adam Says:

      I mentioned this a while ago. Is there anybody interested in making “RealJapan TV”? Let`s start from YouTube and make this as known as possible! Japan cries for every J citizen, but do nothing regarding NJ in Japan paying taxes. I do Martial Arts but tell you I was in situation I could help, but I di not move at all. I was scared that I will be taken into custody. Luckily, 3 Japanese guys got a guy who was running away from older woman who was screaming “つかまえて!つかまえて!There was moment that guy passed maybe 1m from me. I could get him just like that, but fear of being accused for HELP got bigger. I`m very serious about Real Japan TV. I have been thinking about it for a long time. I`m sure it would be very, very interesting and it would impact GoJ oldies. It is possible with all these sources here and also can make own. I cannot stand when I hear about news like a guy who was stopped in Saipan and interviews with citizens on the streets who said: “He was freed in Japan so what Americans want?!” Common, there is a reason they got him. They were talking about this case whole day, even showing that his cell is 1.8mx3m so what!!! Is in japan bigger? He even got translator, someone you can forget in Japan. I hope this country won`t get Olympic 2016

    7. DR Says:

      Hi Icarus, point taken. Let me elaborate a bit. Like Debito, I don’t believe that racism is the key issue in spousal separation and the custody/visitation problems. Your final note that the system isn’t in place yet for such situations is very fair and balanced. I agree.
      Sometimes I find that, like a tortoise confronted with danger, retreating to the shell of “taking care of our own”, ie Japanese, takes precedence. Maybe not maliciously, but it’s kind of like a “blood is thicker than water” mentality. The results are almost invariably the same, the non-Japanese loses out, without systematic viable recourse. I’m convinced that the average Taro and Tomomi are not racists, once their common sense is appealed to. However, entrenched legal and procedural systems are mostly uninformed. When suddenly confronted with something new, literally “foreign”, they retreat to the familiar. This is often exclusionary and, by default, unjust to the non-Japanese individual involved. That’s why I said “adrift” and “malicious”…..the truth is somwhere to be found in that middle ground. The problem is that the folks who can change the laws to be more humane are the radical “ein Volk” people like Aso, Mori, Ishihara and the current crew in power. These are the racist elements that scare me and which don’t give me grounds for hope for the resolution of this kind of human issue. It’s almost like they want things to be difficult for foreigners. If it causes pain to Japanese, well, that’ll teach them to stick to their own kind! Scared, grumpy old men fighting for their fading dreams of empire, maybe? Either way, It’s not going to get better quickly, that’s for sure.

    8. icarus Says:

      Either way, It’s not going to get better quickly, that’s for sure.

      I think this is probably what causes the most frustration for NJ. For most of us we are looking at things through rose-tinted glasses in that we see how things were back home and we see the way they are in Japan. Change is coming – slowly – but based on even just the past few months we’re definitely seeing progress. Think about it – last November or so we were discussing possible suffrage rights, they announced a completely revamped immigration system, and we’ve even seen discussion involving language proficiency. These changes may or may not turn out to be good, but I feel the point is that things are slowly shifting.

      That being said, I don’t think we’re going to see progress with the laws regarding spousal separation for at least another 5 years or so. Only last year they were finally starting to discuss the inane policy of who the legitimate father of a baby was immediately after a divorce so I don’t think we have reached the point where visitation rights become common. In the case of the US, the number of divorces started dramatically increasing in the late 70s and so the place where we are at now has come after 30 years of tinkering.

      Marriage in Japan is going to be a tricky problem until they start to re-think the koseki system. Only Germany and Japan have this kind of system from what I understand and it’s at the heart of the society. Replacing this will take years of deliberation in addition to a ground-up construction of NPOs and NGOs that can help support people going through issues related to this.

      If laws concerning Japanese people are thoroughly set-up then NJ will also benefit from these changes.

      –And even Germany allows foreigners to be listed on Germany’s equivalent of the juuminhyou…

    9. Jon Says:

      Whether it’s racist or not, Japan’s behavior in regards to child abduction is disgusting. The only developed country that does not respect the child custody laws of another civilized country or the Hague convention. Terrible and frightening.

      Their reasooning for this is that it is in the best interest of the child. Of course most rational people around the world feel that it is in the best interest of the child to have a relationship with both parents.

    10. Turner Says:

      In Wong’s case, one thing is curious… usually these children are Japanese citizens by birth, correct? Wouldn’t having them be US citizens (or dual-citizens, in the case of Kaya Wong) make a difference?

    11. Kurobox Says:

      I think that Japan does not allow dual citizenship, i.e. they are Japanese.

    12. HO Says:

      I am copying from the comment section of the ABC article because this is exactly what I wanted to say about the article.
      ————————
      I am very much disappointed by the quality of this article.
      “It’s also a nation that has virtually no established family law”
      Article 725 through article 1044 of Civil Code is the family law of Japan.

      In your article, Mr. Wong says, “When I said I’m taking her back, they (grand parents) filed a lawsuit against me”
      OK. What was the outcome of the lawsuit? Why don’t you report that important piece of information in your article?

      “There is no discovery phase – pretrial disclosure of evidence – or cross-examination. ”
      Cross-examination does exist in court procedure in Japan. See article 202 of Code of Civil Procedure.

      “Furthermore, there is no concept of parental abduction or joint custody.”
      There are not a few parental child abduction cases in Japan in which a parent or a grandparent is found guilty. For example see, case number H17(A)2437 on October 12 2006 by 1st Panel of the Supreme Court of Japan.

      “When his wife, Etsuko Futagi, committed suicide in September 2007, Erika’s maternal grandmother took posession.”
      Shouldn’t it be “his ex-wife” rather than “his wife”, since his daughter was taken by his “ex-wife” in 2003? Did he get divorced or not? If he did, what was the arrangement of the child custody? If his ex-wife had the custody, when she dies, the court will appoint a guardian, pursuant articles 839 and 840 of the Civil Code. Who was the court appointed guardian? If her grandparent was the guardian, what are his reasons to disqualify the guardian? What was the reason he did not apply for the guardian when his ex-wife died? All these pieces are missing in your article.

      “In 2006, Christopher contacted him via text message and said he wanted to come back to the United States. Since his sons were kidnapped, Gulbraa had been working on a plan”
      Excuse me. When was Christopher kidnapped? When his mother took him to Japan, she was the sole custodian of the child. Do you call it a kidnap?
      “In 2002, the court gave Gulbraa custody”
      OK. But why does the court in the US have jurisdiction? I am assuming the mother is a Japanese citizen and the child is a US Japan dual national. In 2002, they were both living in Japan. Laws of Japan are very clear that Japan has the sole jurisdiction of child custody lawsuits if both a parent and the child have Japanese citizenship and the child is living in Japan. I am afraid the article needs a lot more explanation.
      Posted by:
      J20080227 7:30 AM

      –Yes, I heard about this poster this morning. I anticipated there would be some damage control from the “Team Japanners”…

    13. Turner Says:

      Kurobox – Japan doesn’t strictly allow it, but they don’t exactly follow up with the respective governments to confirm that you have renounced citizenship; see Debito’s essays on this.

    14. Patrick Says:

      for HO – where do you work? Is trying to pick apart each case the best you can really do? Wouldnt that same energy be better spent on trying to effect some changes INSIDE the J-MOFA. The rest of the world can easily see who you are and what you are trying to do here. It makes your branch of the GOJ look immature and naiive in response, which only re-affirms everything we are saying here. You should look at the other possibility here. You and the rest of the GOJ have a chance to become human rights heroes ON A WORLD-WIDE SCALE. We all saw what it did for Abe when he(and Koizumi) stood up for the 16 abductees against NK in the first talks in PyongYang. Unprecedented popularity and support…inside Japan. Imagine the WORLD-WIDE support of your actions, if the GOJ corrected this backward aspect of our Global Society. Continueing to support child abductions really dis-credits so much that every J-politician has said about abductions and kidnapping. How is it that countries like Syria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and so on, all look so much more evolved than Japan in terms of child abductions ?

      DR and Icarus are right… we understand that many old school right wing GOJ believers still want a homogenous Japanese society. That opportunity is long gone, accept it! A global society is here and there is no going back. And desperately trying to make a homogenous closed society is self-exterminating thinking in the world we live in today…it will only isolate you. And desperately trying to support any J citizen no-matter what international laws they break or what they do with the children is bad for your national image as well. Try demonstrating that Japanese parents will hold up their end of the deal when they have international children. When 2 parents have a child …it is a deal, an agreement that lasts the rest of their lifetime. Allowing J citizens a destructive way out is not good for anyone. But is especially bad for the world-wide image of Japan, its people, and its government…but it takes its biggest toll on the children.

    15. E.P Lowe Says:

      Another aspect of cases like these is that social services really seem to stink in Japan.

      I have worked in a number of schools in Japan, have pointed out kids who seem to be suffering abuse – only to be told that nothing can be done because the parents/guardians won’t agree to it. Keep social harmony – don’t make waves seems to be the determining factor in these cases.

      Is anyone really looking out for these abducted children?

      In a nation where bi-racial kids are called “halfs” I seriously doubt it.

    16. icarus Says:

      DR and Icarus are right… we understand that many old school right wing GOJ believers still want a homogenous Japanese society. That opportunity is long gone, accept it! A global society is here and there is no going back. And desperately trying to make a homogenous closed society is self-exterminating thinking in the world we live in today…it will only isolate you.

      Sorry, but I’d appreciate it if you don’t put words in my mouth. I never said anything about the right wingers or a homogenous society.

      I said that Japan is making progress but at a rate slower than most NJ are hoping for. The government is free to make changes at whatever speed they want, if at all, and I’m just happy to see that we are actually seeing some new ideas being put forth. I welcome a new approach to immigration in the government and I’m happy to know that at the very least dialog has been started. I may not agree with everything that is being decided but making decisons is much better than sitting on your hands and waiting for problems to dissappear.

    17. TJJ Says:

      I think the information HO provides us is a great service – pointing out the weaknesses of our arguments where they occur. It only helps us in the long run, from appearing ill-informed. I don’t know any educated person who would reject information out of hand simply because they don’t like it (although I’ve never worked in academia, so things might be different there!)

      HO hasn’t, to my knowledge, been snarky to anyone here, and he appears to have a lot of knowledge about the Japanese legal system.

      Bit of respect, civilized discussion, and we’ll all be better off.

    18. Mike Gunn Says:

      Adam wrote: I do Martial Arts but tell you I was in situation I could help, but I di not move at all. I was scared that I will be taken into custody…

      Man, I hear ya. I have also been involved in martial arts, but I feel the same way now…

      During the last World Cup, I heard a noise on our balcony and caught someone trying to break into our place. I chased him down while the neighbors called the police. (I would say an unusual number of police showed up based on what I have witnessed in the past. Nevertheless…) This happened around 8:00 pm, but my wife (Japanese) and I along with our 1 year old son were kept for questioning and not allowed to leave the station until around 5:30 in the morning hours after the thief was asleep in his cell!

      I would never contact the police in Japan under any circumstances unless it was absolutely the last resort or life threatening.

    19. ben shearon Says:

      Mike Gunn and any others

      Please be aware that unless you are formally arrested, you do not have to submit to questioning for extended periods (especially together with your family as you described). You have the right to leave the police station and adjourn until a more convenient time.

      There was a famous case where someone was browbeated into confessing to something while being questioned -the irony being that they could have gone home at any point during the proceedings.

    20. Justin Says:

      I wonder whether the upcoming gaijin-registration system, in which foreigners will have to register with the Japanese government as members of a family household, instead of as individuals, will strengthen foreign parents’ hand in abduction cases. What do you think?

      –I’ve been meaning to write about this. I’m not sure. While I see the new system as better than the old (NJ apparently have something closer to a Juuminhyou), I’m not sure it’ll help at all with custody cases. NJ need a koseki in Japan, and I’m not sure this new register will be something NJ can add children to as single parents.

      I have to make some phone calls to ministries in Tokyo about this, but I’ve been very much on the road for the past several weeks and haven’t gotten around to it. And that situation won’t change for me in the near future with the upcoming book tour. Sorry.

    21. snowman Says:

      Yes it’s sad I think but I can only agree with the above posters in that I too feel I wouldn’t get involved in any “situation” under any circumstances. That is, unless it was on behalf of family or friends of course. As a foreigner you are far too likely to find yourself the one in trouble.

    22. debito Says:

      From the ABC News comments section:

      “You might first want to read about the case of Engle Nieman, who was arrested in Japan In 2000 for trying to leave the country with his own child. At the time, he was separated, but not yet divorced, from his Japanese wife, meaning that he had full legal rights to his child. The police arrested Mr. Nieman for the crime of Abduction or Enticement for Purposes of Removing from Japan (nihon kokugo iso- mokuteki ryakushu oyobi yu-kai). This is a violation of Article 226(1) of the Penal Code, a pre-war law “originally intended to prevent prostitution” by preventing minors from being transported overseas. Englel Nieman’s conviction was confirmed by the Supreme Court of Japan in 2003. It seems that Article 226 of the Penal Code applied only if you removed the person FROM JAPAN. (And perhaps only for the purpose of prostitution, at least until the law was used against Engle Nieman who was obviously NOT trying to remove his own daughter from Japan for prostitution.) The penalty for such a violation is not less than two years in prison.What does that mean? It means that a child can be abducted from another country to Japan and it’s not a crime, a child can be abducted from one place to another within Japan and it’s not a crime, but if a child is abducted with the intent to be taken out of Japan, it’s a crime.”
      ENDS

    23. HO Says:

      “At the time, he was separated, but not yet divorced, from his Japanese wife, meaning that he had full legal rights to his child.”
      I have some doubt about the above statement. If he was separated from his wife, he was, in substance, in divorce with his wife. So, it is questionable that he was entitled with the custody of his child. Is it OK in the US for a husband to take a child from his separated wife?

      “This is a violation of Article 226(1) of the Penal Code, a pre-war law “originally intended to prevent prostitution” by preventing minors from being transported overseas.”

      Let’s see the article.
      Article 226. (Kidnapping for Transportation out of a Country)
      A person who kidnaps another by force or enticement for the purpose of transporting another from one country to another country shall be punished by imprisonment with work for a definite term of not less than 2 years.

      Kidnapping a person to transport to another country is a horrible crime. I do not see any reason to restrict the application of this article to kidnapping minors for overseas prostitution.

      “a child can be abducted from another country to Japan and it’s not a crime”
      I also doubt this.
      Article 3 (Crimes Committed by Japanese Nationals outside Japan)
      This Code shall apply to any Japanese national who commits one of the following crimes outside the territory of Japan:
      (xi) The crimes proscribed under Articles 224 through 228 (Kidnapping of Minors; Kidnapping for Profit; Kidnapping for Ransom; Kidnapping for Transportation out of a Country; Buying or Selling of Human Beings; Transportation of Kidnapped Persons out of a Country; Delivery of Kidnapped Persons; Attempts);

      “a child can be abducted from one place to another within Japan and it’s not a crime”
      Here you go.
      Article 224. (Kidnapping of Minors)
      A person who kidnaps a minor by force or enticement shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not less than 3 months but not more than 7 years.

      Well, one can still argue that the laws are not enforced, but at least laws are there.

      ——————————
      –I’m afraid you have no idea what you’re talking about. Separation (bekkyo) does not mean divorce, legally or practically, in Japan. You cannot remarry, for example, while Separated. And Separation does not affect child custody because nothing has been decided by law or in Family Court. Just spitting laws at us constantly without knowing how things work in practice is what in the end makes you a debate dilettante. May you never have to go through a divorce in Japan.

    24. Patrick Says:

      Maybe the Symposium NEXT FRIDAY will reveal a little more about how all of the Foreign Governments see the Govt of Japan and how they have been insincere in their responses and efforts to resolve this GROWING WORLD CRIME PROBLEM BEING SUPPORTED BY THE GOVT OF JAPAN. Japanese interpretations of their own laws and willingness to ignore all foreign laws , court rulings , and arrest warrents will definitely be discussed. Everyone should attend! See the invitation below.

      For all who are affected already, and for those who are seriously concerned with the current status quo of how the Govt of Japan responds to international parental child abductions.

      On March 14th 2008 , The Canadian Embassy in Tokyo will sponsor its 3rd symposium on Japanese International Child Abductions. I am strongly encouraging everyone who is in Tokyo or anywhere in the world …and who does not have frequent and meaningful contact with your children in Japan, whether you are Japanese, American, Canadian, Brazilian, or ANY foreign national…. PLEASE ATTEND the symposium in Tokyo.

      Psychologists, judges, and lawyers should attend as well.
      Our US Dept of State will attend and has pledged to continue trying to get the seemingly intractible Govt of Japan to come to the table in a more sincere manner in order to reach some sort of resolution to this ever widening problem. The US Dept of State needs our US show of support, so every American or ex-pat who can show up will make our voice stronger. If you can not attend, please contact your Govt officials (whatever your country is) and make your children’s and families case, a part of the discussion in Tokyo on Friday the 14th.

      Here are a few suggestions you can make to your own countries representatives who attend the symposium;

      1. Join together with all other countries in a joint demarche of Japans lack of sincerity and reciprocity in its handling of international parental child abductions.
      2. Ask that your Ambassador in Japan, write an op-ed to be published in Japan and in your own country regarding Japans long standing failure to respond .
      3. Stress the importance of Japans need to resolve international parental child abductions in our global community today.
      4. Lobby other Governments and authorities on the importance placed on resolving international parental child abductions in America.
      5. Make children’s rights issues a more active topic AT ALL LEVELS of your Govt’s bilateral discussions with Japan.

      If you would like to discuss any other possibilities or details, PLEASE email me directly at global(dot)future(at)Yahoo(dot)com.
      If you need more information of the event, you can call the Canadian Embassy at their phone number in Tokyo which is 011-81-3-5412-6200.

      For the sake of our children, and the future of social justice in Japan, PLEASE FORWARD THIS MESSAGE to anyone you feel might be interested.
      Sincerely ,
      Patrick Braden

    25. Japan to Sign Parental-abduction Treaty | BLACKTOKYO.COM Says:

      […] *** Click here for additional information and discussion! *** […]

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