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Embedded Racism: Japan's Visible Minorities and Racial Discrimination

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  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • CSM’s Kambayashi ties up Savoie Case, alludes to gender discrim

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on October 20th, 2009

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatar
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    Hi Blog.  Just to complete the arc, here’s the CSM surveying the final chapter of Christopher Savoie’s foray into getting his kids back:  He gets released from jail and gets out of Dodge.  But now, as we’ve pointed out here before, there are new problems related to this issue coming to light.  In sum, Savoie’s stint in the clink was worth it, for all left-behind spouses in Japan.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


    Released, American father still faces uphill child custody battle in Japan

    American Christopher Savoie was arrested Sept. 28 in Japan after trying to get his children back from his ex-wife. The case has underscored widely different views in the US and Japan of parental rights and child-rearing.

    Christian Science Monitor October 15, 2009 edition

    By Takehiko Kambayashi | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

    Japanese police have released an American father who was imprisoned for allegedly kidnapping his own children despite his sole legal custody of them.

    Prosecutors have not pressed charges against the American, Christopher Savoie, but they haven’t yet dropped the case. Officials said they decided to release him on grounds that he was not a flight risk.

    The case, which is among a growing number of international custody disputes in Japan, highlights widely varying views of divorce and child-rearing.

    After Christopher and Noriko Savoie divorced in the United States, Mrs. Savoie defied a court order and took their two children to Japan. Mr. Savoie then came to Japan to get the children back. On Sept. 28, he forcefully took them and tried to get them into the American Consulate in Fukuoka. He was arrested for kidnapping them, the police say.

    Tadashi Yoshino, Mr. Savoie’s Japanese lawyer, said before his client’s release that the American should not be indicted. “All he did was to exercise his legitimate right,” Mr. Yoshino said, “though technically he may have committed a crime according to Japanese law.”

    US officials have long criticized Japan for its failure to sign a 1980 international agreement governing child abductions, known as the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

    “Until now, this issue received scant media attention [in Japan]. However, with the Savoie case, Japan has earned a worldwide reputation as a safe haven for abductions,” writes Debito Arudou, a columnist for the Japan Times.

    In Japan, women usually gain custody of the children after a divorce. The number of cases where mothers have parental authority increased from about 50 percent in 1970 to 80 percent in 2005, according to government reports.

    “In Japan, divorce means that one side [usually the father] can lose all contact with the kids,” says Mr. Arudou, a naturalized Japanese citizen who himself is divorced and has no contact with his children. He says he has seen one of his daughters only once over the past five years.

    “After divorce, dual custody of children is not allowed here,” says Reichi Miyahara, the leader of fathers’ rights group, who supports single-parent families in Fukuoka. He adds that the nation’s family registry system, known as koseki, does not allow placement of a child on two people’s registry.

    In the Savoie case, the issue is further tangled by the fact that the couple, who had lived in Japan, never divorced in Japan, though they did in the US. Japanese officials also say that the children hold Japanese passports.

    Some lawmakers in the ruling Democratic Party lawmakers are now in favor of abolishing the controversial system. In a July interview with the Japan Times Herald, Yukio Hatoyama, then-opposition leader and now prime minister, said that “We support ratifying and enforcing the Hague Convention, and involved in this is a sweeping change to allow divorced fathers visitation of their children. That issue affects not just foreign national fathers, but Japanese fathers as well. I believe in this change.”

    According to the major daily Yomiuri, the Fukuoka District Prosecutor’s Office says Savoie has pledged to resolve the issue of custody and rearing through dialogue between agents.

    Still, many hurdles remain in terms of society’s view of child-rearing. Mr. Miyahara, who divorced his wife two years ago and now lives with his three children, says motherless families like his do not receive public assistance such as child-care allowances, even as there are government programs that support fatherless families.

    “It is taken for granted that fathers have a certain amount of income,” he says. “The system dates back to the wartime period.”

    Miyahara came to Tokyo last year to meet Health Ministry officials and DPJ lawmakers to ask for help. Since the DPJ won a landslide victory in the elections and is now in power, the change is expected to come, he says.

    “Many single fathers also tend to hide [the fact that] they are motherless families. But I tell them to talk openly about it,” he says. “In fact, more people are becoming interested in our situations.”


    10 Responses to “CSM’s Kambayashi ties up Savoie Case, alludes to gender discrim”

    1. Black Tokyo » Blog Archive » American Arrested for Parental Kidnapped Released Says:

      […] the Debito post on Savoie’s release for more information. To read previous Black Tokyo stories on the […]

    2. john Says:

      Prosecutors have not dropped charges. Why? I wonder if a deal was done here. You get out of japan and we won’t charge you? If you return to japan the police will press charges.
      Since his departure have there been any further media reports in the US?
      It seems to have dropped of the radar regarding the kidnapping of his children.

      Thank you

    3. Marc Says:

      “Yukio Hatoyama, then-opposition leader and now prime minister, said that “We support ratifying and enforcing the Hague Convention, and involved in this is a sweeping change to allow divorced fathers visitation of their children. That issue affects not just foreign national fathers, but Japanese fathers as well. I believe in this change.”

      More difficult for foreigners Mr Hatoyama..
      Japaneses fathers don’t need a visa for stay in Japan and fight in Family Court for try to see their childrens,we,after divorced can’t renew our visa
      They are not discriminate as Japanese in court like us,I think
      They speak Japanese like their childrens,they don’t have problem for communicate in future with them, not like our childrens who loose their foreing language

    4. Al Says:

      “In sum, Savoie’s stint in the clink was worth it, for all left-behind spouses in Japan.”
      Can you explain this?
      From what I can see no good has come of Savoie being in jail. In fact perhaps the opposite. The way it has been reported in Japan is that he is the criminal which has been “proved” by the fact that he was arrested. So now Japanese people who prevent their spouses/ex-spouses from seeing their children will be extra vigilant in preventing their kids being taken from them. And foreigners are again seen as being the perpetrators of crime.
      I know that the international pressure due to this case has forced Japan to say that they will strongly consider signing the treaty but from what I hear they have been strongly considering it for 28 years.

    5. Frodis Says:

      This is the second time in recent weeks that it has been stated that, after divorce, foreigners won’t be able to renew their visas. Even after divorce you can renew your visa. You just might have to change the type of visa that you carry. It certainly adds impetus to ones applying for permanent residency. I would no rather have an employer dangling my visa status over my head than I would a wife having the same sort of carrot and stick control over my residency.

      — More specifically, you won’t be able to renew your Spouse Visa after a divorce. Of course. Unless you remarry. And that means starting from zero and proving to Immigration that your new marriage isn’t fake, and they’ve really tightened down on that in recent years. Good luck.

    6. Kimberly Says:


      I know of at least one case where a divorced mother was given a special visa (the same kind that the two Chinese college students were given in the article Debito posted the other day) in order to stay in Japan with her son, who was being raised Japanese, already enrolled in Japanese school etc. Of course, in that case, as far as I know the Japanese father didn’t especially WANT custody. So it’s possible, but the odds are probably stacked against fathers in particular.

      I think making the argument “they’re losing their American/Canadian/British whatever identity!”, while it may certainly be a valid concern for some families, is not going to be as effective as simply “They are losing their father.” Whether “losing their father” ALSO entails losing access to native English and a second culture or not… any father who wants to see his children and hasn’t forfeited that right through abuse or other inappropriate behaviour should have the right to, period.

      I agree that it’s harder for foreign fathers than Japanese fathers in general. But arguing that this applies to Japanese fathers too is MORE likely to strike a chord with politicians, many of whom are Japanese fathers themselves. If Hatoyama is making that connection, I think it’s a good idea to USE that connection to try to get visitation rights, if not joint custody for ALL.

    7. Doug in Kamakura Says:

      One thing that doesn’t make sense to me: If they have not been divorced in Japan, then doesn’t he have just as much right to be with his kids as their mother does? Shouldn’t he be able to drive them to the Embassy (or to the movies, or anywhere he wants)? Especially as he has a Japanese passport. How can someone be arrested for “kidnapping” kids they are still legally responsible for? Or am I missing a key part of this story?

    8. Michael Says:

      TO Doug in Kamakura,

      This may be why ultimately he wasn’t charged. After all that interrogation they may not have been able to get him to confess to something that was a crime whether he committed a crime based on Japanese law or not.

    9. Sean Says:

      I agree with Marc on get foreign parent visitation rights FIRST,while Japan Must provide an ETA on setting up that facility.
      Justice must be executed, abducted kids can be returned by negotiation b/t parents with appropriate law, for the real best interest interest of kids.

      We really wish Chris Smith and his forces could have PARENT ACT pass asap while expose both child abduction and racism of Japan to international media, ie. movie, news, as much as possible.

    10. Marc Says:


      I think is because the Japanese father don’t want custody of the child ,that why the mother can remake her visa and stay in Japan for school’child ,etc
      There is a case with a Chilean mother who loose custody of her daughter against a Japanese father who bring the child to his sister (his sister don’t have child)even if in Japan mothers have custody after divorce,for me this is simply discrimination

      I have experience in Family Court Tokyo for 3 years (divorce)
      My ex-wife accused me of DV
      She loose her lawsuit in Tokyo district Court about this DV,but nothing change Family Court never hear me (and my lawyer)
      I have many proves of fake document from hospital,from her lawyer the end they give custody of my child to her

      Police too help her,but when I go complain to the koban ,they don’t want hear me and repeat “family problem,we can’t make nothing,see a lawyer ..”
      My ex-wife make testament at first before file lawsuit for divorce and police never want give a copy of her testament ,they everytime refuse to give it, to the judge too..arguing a law of privacy,I think

      This copy is very important since start this lawsuit because she say to the police, she want divorce me because of DV ,and my child love me so much so she affraid if I comeback my country with our child..

      After 1 year,where I can’t see my child, her lawyer give testament from doctor who say “it’s better for my child to not see the father..” I ask everytime since start this lawsuit to see my child ,I go 1/2 times a month for mediation during 1/2 years(request by Family Court)my ex-wife never come ,just 2 times but in different meeting,I never see her

      The result after all damage on my child ,loose contact with all her family,health,scool,etc ,I cant see my child since 2005,I’m very tired and now face to problem of visa,job,money..

      Sorry for my english

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