My final thoughts on Savoie Case in next Tues Oct 6 JUST BE CAUSE Japan Times column (plus more media: WSJ, NYT, CNN)

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Hi Blog. I said I would write my Apologia for the Savoie Child Abduction Case today. Well, I did. But not for public consumption yet, sorry. The Japan Times commissioned me to do it for my next JUST BE CAUSE column (out Tuesday Oct 6), so please wait a couple of days.

Thanks for reading! I’ll do another blog post on something else in a few minutes. Arudou Debito in Sapporo

(Read on to Comments Section for more media from WSJ* NYT and CNN)

Surprised if true, from CNN Oct 4, see below:

Christopher Savoie and his first wife, Noriko Savoie, were married for 14 years before their divorce in January. The couple, both citizens of the United States and Japan, had lived in Japan but moved to the United States before the divorce.

WSJ, full article below or at

U.S. officials say one parent too often absconds with a child or children to Japan, leaving the other parent no legal route to regain custody or visitation rights. U.S. authorities count 82 current cases, involving about 123 children, in which American parents have been denied access to children taken to Japan by the other parent.

10 comments on “My final thoughts on Savoie Case in next Tues Oct 6 JUST BE CAUSE Japan Times column (plus more media: WSJ, NYT, CNN)

  • Meanwhile, Matsutani-san at the Japan Times reports (and Christopher’s lawyer confirms his J citizenship):

    Saturday, Oct. 3, 2009

    Savoie’s lawyer says he deserves leniency



    Savoie was arrested after putting the two children, who were walking to school with their mother on Monday morning, into a car and driving to the U.S. Consulate in the city of Fukuoka, according to Fukuoka police. He has been charged with abducting minors. If convicted, his sentence could range from three months to seven years in prison, Yoshino said.

    Yoshino said he will try to get the prosecutors to drop the indictment.

    “His motive is understandable,” he said. “Leniency should be considered. Also, as a lawyer I have seen many cases in which parents take similar actions. This isn’t abnormal. Even people in their right mind do these things when it’s about their own children.”

    Japan has not signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, whose aim is to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any signatory countries.

    International pressure on Japan to sign the convention is expected to increase. Had Japan signed it, Savoie would have had other legal options to deal with his situation.

    But Yoshino said: “This case is not about diplomacy. It’s not even a criminal case. It’s a family matter, which countries and police should stay away from.”

    Savoie, fluent in Japanese, obtained Japanese citizenship in March 2005, Yoshino said.

  • Thank goodness he’s Japanese so at least they can’t kick him out of the country.

    Certainly Japan needs to modernise its child custody laws.

    However, I do think the parents need to both grow up. They should act like adults, talk to each other and accept a 50/50 arrangement at least in principle for the good of the children.

    I guess with Japanese custody laws as backward as they are though, if one of the parents is acting like a child and the other an adult, the adult is devoid of legal options. I also suppose that even if both parents would like to act as adults, the lack of mechanism within the Japanese legal system to reward fair play may could drive them to these extremes.

    I acknowledge I don’t have personal experience (thank goodness) here, and I don’t know the details of this individual case, so I may have this wrong…

  • I know you mean “apologia” more of as an explanation than apology of Savoie’s actions, but I want to make it clear — as a man desperately trying to avoid the same fate — that I believe Savoie acted morally and courageously and has absolutely nothing to apologize for, and is a hero in mind.

    I can only think that those who would criticize his behavior do not really understand the dire nature of the situation in which he found himself. For those who would say he was wrong for moving to the United States for the apparent purpose of getting a divorce, you must know there is a huge assymetric difference in the way divorce, custody and visitation rights are handled. If he gets a divorce in Japan, the most likely scenario would have been that he would rarely see his children again (perhaps once every 6 months, in exchange for large cash payments). On the plus side would have been the fact he has Japanese citizenship, which meant he would at least have been able to stay in the country to work and see them, and it is my guess that was one of the reasons he pursued it originally (someone without permanent residency, on the other hand, would not be able to renew their working visa after the divorce has occurred). Anyway, if the divorce occurs in America she is practically guaranteed the right to visitation, and in all likelihood, some form of custody as well (as was the case). Can you imagine how hard it would have been for him to talk about the issue with his wife while still living in Japan? In my household it is a topic on which I dare not utter a word, in fear of letting my wife know just how strong the hand she holds really is. My life has been a living hell every single day for years and years.

    The fact he has Japanese citizenship changes the equation regarding his attempt to take the children from her, since it allows him to say he was not abducting them for the purpose of taking them out of the country, which is against the law, while plain old parental abduction is not. If he had gone to the airport, that would have been worse.

    If Noriko is anything like my wife, she ended her marital relationship with her husband several years ago. Don’t make it out like Savoie is the bad guy, unless you know for a fact what Noriko’s behavior was in the marriage. I have to go now, for fear of my wife seeing this post. But I will check back occasionally here, and will offer any insight I can into the man’s motivations.

  • I wouldn’t say Japan couldn’t just kick him out of the country. If he did not give up his US citizenship as required when he took Japanese citizenship they could revoke his Japanese citizenship.

    And I am interested to know if, since they were divorced in the US, the divorce was registered in Japan. And since he is Japanese presumably if they had not registered the divorce he really can’t be charged with kidnapping his own kids…

    Lots going on in the background – obviously with the screwy Japanese laws on divorce and child custody/visitation we’re probably going to have to wait a while to get the “real” story.

  • CNN reports Noriko is a dual national (US and Japan) too. Courtesy of DH:

    Group calls for release of American dad jailed in Japan
    October 4, 2009

    WASHINGTON (CNN) — A handful of people rallied outside the Japanese Embassy on Saturday to show support for an American man who is jailed in Japan, accused of trying to kidnap his own children.

    During the demonstration, Christopher Savoie’s wife, Amy, along with others from the Children’s Rights Council of Japan — a group that advocates visitation for both parents in divorce cases, and which organized Saturday’s event — called for Savoie’s release.

    “It makes me feel wonderful to know that these people are calling him a hero, saying he’s brave, and I just hope he can come home and say thank you to all these people who’ve supported him,” Amy Savoie told CNN.

    Christopher Savoie, 38, a Tennessee native and naturalized Japanese citizen, allegedly abducted his two children — 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — as his ex-wife walked them to school Monday in a rural town in southern Japan, police in Japan said.

    With the children, Savoie headed for the nearest U.S. consulate in the city of Fukuoka to try to obtain passports for them, screaming at guards to let him in the compound. Savoie was steps away from the front gate but still standing on Japanese soil when Japanese police arrested him.

    Amy Savoie said the separation is taking a toll on her.

    “I just wish I could talk to him, but I am forced to live with the fact that I can’t talk to him. So I have to soothe myself and comfort myself with what he would say right now, and I just hope he’s doing well,” she said.

    Christopher Savoie and his first wife, Noriko Savoie, were married for 14 years before their divorce in January. The couple, both citizens of the United States and Japan, had lived in Japan but moved to the United States before the divorce.

    Noriko Savoie was given custody of the children and agreed to remain in the United States. Christopher Savoie had visitation rights. During the summer, she fled with the children to Japan, according to court documents. A U.S. court than granted Christopher Savoie sole custody.

    Japanese law, however, recognizes Noriko Savoie as the primary custodian. The law there also follows a tradition of sole-custody divorces. When the couple splits, one parent typically makes a complete and lifelong break from the children.

    Complicating the matter further is the fact that the couple still are considered married in Japan because they never divorced there, police said Wednesday. And, police said, the children are Japanese and have Japanese passports.

    A 1980 Hague Convention standardized laws on international child abduction, but Japan is not a party to that agreement.

    If a child in Japan is taken against the wishes of the recognized Japanese parent, Japanese law considers the person who took the child an abductor.

    Christopher Savoie will be jailed for at least 10 days while Japanese prosecutors sort out details of the case.

  • Jib Halyard says:

    A lot of the second-guessing and speculation going on the comments of this blog completely misses the point.
    Whether either or both of the parents deserves sympathy or not is completely irrelevant.
    this real issue here is very very simple:
    Regardless of the merits of his/her case, the Japanese spouse will ALWAYS have the opportunity of a fair hearing in the US.
    Regardless of the merits of his/her case, the American spouse will NEVER have the opportunity of a fair hearing in Japan.
    That is what the media should be focusing on.

  • can someone explain to me why she is seen as primary custodian of children in japanese law if they are not divorced??

    also what are they going to do about this double dual citizenship thing?
    they can’t really take away her japanese passport as she would then be a citizen only of the country where she is wanted for child abduction

  • Adamw, it depends on whether they registered their divorce in Japan and who’s koseki the children went onto if they did register the divorce (I have to think they did register the divorce or his lawyer isn’t doing his job by presenting the koseki to the court since my understanding of the law is a parent can’t kidnap their own child – but look into it yourself as my understanding is probably wrong).

    And yes, they could take her Japanese passport away, it is just highly unlikely that they would since she was born a Japanese citizen. She can always just claim ignorance of the rule, apologize, and give up her US citizenship. Whereas, as a naturalized Japanese citizen, Mr. Savoie can’t make the same claim.

  • WSJ on issue:

    * The Wall Street Journal
    * OCTOBER 5, 2009

    Custody Case Tinged by Politics
    Dispute Raises U.S. Concern Over Japan’s Failure to Sign Agreement on Child Abductions

    TOKYO — A child-custody dispute that landed a U.S. businessman in Japanese police custody offers a glimpse into a longstanding diplomatic sore point between the two countries.

    Christopher Savoie is being held in the Japanese city of Fukuoka while police investigate his alleged abduction of his two children. According to police, the eight-year-old boy and six-year-old girl were on their way to school in Fukuoka with their mother — Mr. Savoie’s ex-wife, Noriko Savoie — when Mr. Savoie forcefully grabbed them, put them in his car and drove away.

    Mr. Savoie argues he has legal custody of the children. In August, after Ms. Savoie had left the U.S. for Japan, a Franklin, Tenn., state court found Ms. Savoie had taken the children abroad in violation of a previous court order and awarded him custody.

    “His actions came out of his feelings of love as a father,” said Tadashi Yoshino, Mr. Savoie’s Japanese lawyer. Since he has parental rights in the U.S., Mr. Yoshino added, “he doesn’t necessarily view this as something he’s done wrong.”

    Representatives for Ms. Savoie couldn’t be reached Friday.

    The situation is raising concerns among U.S. officials who have long complained about Japan’s failure to sign a 1980 international agreement governing child abductions. The U.S., China, the U.K., major European countries and Australia all adhere to the agreement.

    The 1980 agreement, known formally as the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, says that cases must be sorted out in the country that is the children’s place of “habitual residence.” Some in Japan have balked at the agreement because Japanese divorce courts typically assign custody to only one parent.

    U.S. officials say one parent too often absconds with a child or children to Japan, leaving the other parent no legal route to regain custody or visitation rights. U.S. authorities count 82 current cases, involving about 123 children, in which American parents have been denied access to children taken to Japan by the other parent.

    “Any close relationship has disagreements. This is an important disagreement between our two countries,” said John Roos, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, in a meeting with reporters on Friday. He declined to discuss specifics of the case.

    Officials at the Japanese Foreign Ministry weren’t available Friday afternoon. A spokeswoman at the Japanese embassy in Washington, D.C., declined to comment on the matter.

    Previously, Japanese officials have said they are considering signing the agreement. “The problem is growing, and it has become a diplomatic issue,” said Kosei Nomura, a Foreign Ministry official in charge of international law, according to the Associated Press.

    The dispute comes at a sensitive time in U.S.-Japanese relations. Japan’s new government said it would like to reconsider some aspects of its longtime alliance with the U.S. The two sides have since emphasized that the two countries remain committed to keeping a close relationship.

    Mr. Savoie is chief executive of Tazzle Inc., a closely held wireless-technology company headquartered in Franklin and with operations in Tokyo. Formerly he was president of a Japan-based biotechnology company.

    Mr. Yoshino, his lawyer, said his client will be detained until Wednesday. At that point, the prosecutors can decide whether to indict him or extend the investigation by another 10 days. If found guilty in a trial, Mr. Savoie faces three months to seven years in prison.

    Prosecutors will be concerned only with the forced-abduction issue and Mr. Savoie’s custody claims, Mr. Yoshino said. “That’s where he might have been a bit naive,” Mr. Yoshino said of his client. “No matter if it’s Japan or the United States, even if you are in the right, you can’t use force to get your way. That’s the same everywhere in the world.”

    —Jacob M. Schlesinger in Tokyo and T.W. Farnam in Washington contributed to this article.

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