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  • TODAY show (USA) on Savoie Child Abduction Case: father Chris’s treatment by J police, return to US, aftermath

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on November 12th, 2009

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    Hi Blog.  The Today Show (USA) has an update on the Savoie Child Abduction Case from the perspective of left-behind father Christopher, notably his treatment in Japanese police custody and how he is, in his words, “dead to my kids”.  FYI.  Debito

    Dad in Japan custody case: I’m dead to my kids
    Christopher Savoie describes prison ordeal after he tried to recover children

    By Michael Inbar contributor
    updated 10:00 a.m. ET Nov. 9, 2009, Courtesy of Paul Wong

    American Christopher Savoie is back on U.S. soil after spending a harrowing 18 days in a Japanese jail for trying to wrest his children away from his ex-wife. But the joy of being reunited with his current wife, Amy, is muted by the heartbreak of having to leave his son and daughter behind.

    Savoie, 38, was locked in a bitter custody battle with his former wife, Noriko, when she fled to her native Japan with the couple’s 8-year-old son, Isaac, and 6-year-old daughter, Rebecca, on Aug. 13. On Sept. 28, Savoie flew to Japan to reclaim his children — but as he headed up the steps of the U.S. Embassy in Fukuoka with Isaac and Rebecca in tow, he was promptly arrested by Japanese police.

    Appearing live in his first interview since being released on Oct. 15, Savoie, accompanied by Amy, told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira that being a free man is a hollow victory without his children beside him.

    “It’s absolutely horrible; there are no words for it,” he told Vieira. “Basically, I’m dead to my children.”

    Troubled relations

    At issue is the sticky state of U.S.-Japan relations regarding custody of young children whose parents have gone their separate ways. According to the International Association for Parent-Child Reunion, there have been some 125 cases of American children who have been abducted by a parent to Japan. To date, not one child has ever been returned to the U.S.

    Part of it is legal: Japan is the sole G7 nation not adhering to the 1980 Hague Convention calling for the return of children abducted across international borders. And part of it is cultural: According to Japanese tradition, children of divorce are given to one parent, almost always the mother, and the other parent is basically written out of their lives.

    While U.S. officials try to pressure Japan to acquiesce to Hague Convention standards, Savoie is seen as a maverick who tried to take the law into his own hands in getting his kids back. But Savoie told Vieira he believes he had solid legal standing, even by Japanese law, in traveling to Japan to reclaim Isaac and Rebecca.

    Savoie and Noriko were married in Japan in 1995, and he still carries a Japanese passport from his time as a student and working for a pharmaceutical company there. The couple split in 2007, and when Savoie moved back to the U.S. in 2008 for a job with a biotech company, Noriko followed a year later so the pair could both spend time with their children.

    But the arrangement never worked well, Savoie told Vieira. He claims Noriko was antagonistic toward his new wife, Amy, and often threatened to take the children back to Japan with her. Savoie sought a restraining order in his adopted hometown of Franklin, Tenn., to keep Noriko from fleeing with the children, but it wasn’t granted.

    ‘Big shock’
    On Aug. 13, Savoie was notified that Isaac and Rebecca were not present at what was supposed to be their first day of school. Savoie told Vieira that initially, he imagined even worse scenarios than the notion that Noriko had taken off with them.

    “Horrible thoughts went through my mind,” he said. “The first thought wasn’t that they might have been abducted; I was worried that something might have happened to them, something horrible.”

    Savoie finally reached his former father-in-law in Japan, who told him the children were safe and sound and with their mother. Savoie began plotting a course of action that led to his Sept. 28 trip to Japan and subsequent imprisonment — but he insisted to Vieira it wasn’t unlawful.

    “I actually still have, and had at that time, legal custody in Japan — fifty-fifty custody,” Savoie said.

    Savoie met up with Noriko as she walked the children to school, wrested them away from her, put them in a car and made a mad dash for the embassy. Noriko told police she was bruised from the scuffle between the pair as Savoie spirited the children away.

    But Savoie told Vieira: “Picking my kids up, hugging them and putting them in the car — I hardly thought that would be considered criminal. So it was a big shock to me that police actually took it in that manner.”

    Savoie insists he was not planning to put Isaac and Rebecca on the next plane home. “My intention was to go to the consulate and then have a discussion if the police wanted to ask about it,” he told Vieira. “I had all the custody documents with me. If they had said, ‘Please stay in Japan, and have a family court decide the custody first,’ I would have done that.”

    ‘Horrible’ conditions
    Instead, Savoie found himself behind bars for 18 days, under conditions he said were “pretty horrible”.

    “I think it is well known by the United Nations that Japan’s pre-indictment jail conditions are horrendous,” he said. “They’re quite infamous. Almost 18 days of 12 hours a day of interrogation without a lawyer; lights on all the time at night, so sleep deprivation. Really terrible sanitary conditions — it’s just too horrible to recall.”

    Still, Japanese authorities released Savoie without indicting him. They say charges are still pending, but Savoie believes he is unlikely to face any charges. “I assume if they had enough evidence to indict with the crime, they would have done so.”

    He also says his ex-wife’s claims that he injured her were unfounded. “There wasn’t much of a struggle,” he said. “All of these reports that there was bruising, that never was proven. And that was part of the reason I was released.”

    Still, there is no short-term prospect of the dad’s being reunited with Isaac and Rebecca. Savoie’s best hope is that Japan changes its policies — and on that front, there may be a little progress. In a statement to CNN, Japan Foreign Ministry spokesman Yasuhisa Kawamura said the government is considering becoming part of the Hague treaty.

    “Japanese government is … considering seriously to conclude this treaty on the grounds that this treaty would provide one of the most effective measures to protect the children after their parents divorce,” Kawamura said.


    28 Responses to “TODAY show (USA) on Savoie Child Abduction Case: father Chris’s treatment by J police, return to US, aftermath”

    1. Eido Inoue Says:

      Amazing how you post this with zero commentary, even though you (and everyone else who has lived long term in Japan) know that how outrageous and difficult to believe SABOI Kurisu’s comments are and how outrageously simplistic Michael Inbar’s summaries are.

      “… he still carries a Japanese passport from his time as a student and working for a pharmaceutical company there.” The reporter makes it appear as if acquiring a vanity passport when you’re a student or businessman in Japan is standard procedure and common!

      And here’s my favorite comment:

      “I actually still have, and had at that time, legal custody in Japan — fifty-fifty custody,” Savoie said.

      Huh? What? Debito, enlighten me, because I fail to see how this is anything but a blatant lie on Savoie’s part. Savoie’s not stupid enough (Ph.D college educated) to possibly believe that’s true.

    2. Marc Says:

      Eido, Savoie was correct his statement – he still has a legally recognized right to joint custody.

      He and Noriko have not completed a court arbitrated divorce proceeding in Japan, and sole custody of the children has thus not been awarded to either parent.

    3. Tkyosam Says:

      I know you are trying to get more people to focus on the “taken children” aspect of this case, but I can’t stop thinking of what did/has/hasn’t happened to Savoie’s Japanese citizenship status from here on out.

    4. Graham Says:

      The Fukuoka police has now officially dropped the charges against him, on the account that “he has shown signs of -hansei- and agreed to resolve the matter through negotiation.” Oh do I love that word “hansei” cops and judges utter so many times.



      (2009年11月11日20時59分 読売新聞)

    5. Mumei Says:

      This case represents an unfortunate precedent. Chris is a naturalized Japanese citizen and the father of two children. He and Noriko are reportedly still legally married in Japan. This is surely why Chris claims to have equal custody rights as Noriko. Chris and Noriko are equal in all respects except that Chris naturalized while Noriko is Japanese by birth. I do not think that legally the government could charge Chris with a crime, which is probably why they let him go. But judging from how the situation progressed, I can only conclude that Chris lost because socially (as opposed to legally) naturalized Japanese citizens are somehow inferior to Japanese-born citizens. This is a bad precedent.

    6. Karl Says:

      I believe the comment about 50-50 custody comes from the fact that Savoie and Noriko are still legally married in Japan and he assumes that means he has equal custody. (Or did their marriage status change?)

      But the article does have a number of holes and somewhat strange claims. Eido pointed out the big mistunderstanding on the reporter’s part about how one obtains a passport. It makes you wonder how accurate any of the information can really be, and makes the whole report seem quite unprofessional.

    7. adamw Says:

      as he was still legally married in japan then his claims are technically correct

    8. Joe Says:

      If he has no charges pending against him, then there is nothing preventing Dr. Savoie from returning to Japan. And if he is legally married in Japan, and there is no sort of restraining order barring him from his families presence, then there is nothing preventing him from seeing his children. So if he’s “dead to the children”, then that’s only because he has decided that it be so.

    9. Frodis Says:

      I agree that this interview does nothing to help Savoie’s case. I think it hurts his claim. My own doubts as to the veracity of his side of this terrible he said/she said story have only increased.

    10. Jeff Says:

      “This case represents an unfortunate precedent. Chris is a naturalized Japanese citizen… I can only conclude that Chris lost because socially (as opposed to legally) naturalized Japanese citizens are somehow inferior to Japanese-born citizens.”

      This is the obvious conclusion to draw, I was thinking the same thing. Debito has said that it “appears that he was released on the condition that he get outta Dodge”. Frankly, that creates a potentially dangerous situation where NJ / 日本の国民 cannot know what their situation is. That’s quite different in character from the dangerous situation of bad but known laws and police.

      Taken together it is really disturbing, and needs to be clarified. A good place to start might be with Chris, if he would be so kind as to tell us exactly what his legal status is and if what “appears” to be the case are the real facts…

      It occurs to me actually, it might be that his claim of US citizenship (as printed in this article) invalidated his status, which is only better because the legal black hole is smaller then… or at least bounded.

    11. Z Says:

      What I’m wondering is why he gave up and returned to the States? I’m sure they encouraged him to do so, but I highly doubt they can revoke his citizenship and ban him from the country for what he did. If he’s still legally married and has 50/50, why didn’t he stay and fight?

      Well, Chris doesn’t seem to be the kind of guy to just give it up. Hopefully this won’t be the last we hear of it.

    12. EnufAlready Says:

      Then technically he is a self proclaimed bigamist.

      Japan and most other countries require a sworn affidavit and/or copies of previous divorce decrees to prove a person is completely unencumbered in relevant (all?) jurisdictions before allowing them to marry. Japan even requires proof of “single status” from your home country to be eligible for the single parent subsidy.
      He is still legally married in Japan. The US recognizes Japanese marriages. How did he remarry in the States prior to the divorce being finalized in Japan? Rhetorically speaking, does the US only recognize their own legal rulings?
      Like most things about this case, he seems to pick and choose or simply fabricate on the spot to fit his immediate needs.

      [swipe deleted, stick to topic]

    13. Eido Inoue Says:

      I hope he’s not using the fact that he’s technically guilty of bigamy (not yet divorced in Japan but divorced/remarried in TN) or the fact that he has one too many citizenships* in the eyes of Japan as his rationale for why he believes he has custody.

      That’s a bit like writing a check to the person to the left of you for the entire contents of your bank account, then writing a check to the person on the right of you, saying that the check is good because the person on the left hasn’t cashed the check yet.

      * Chris made the same claim, providing “paperwork,” to a newschannel5 reporter (who can’t read Japanese):

      “Savoie said he went to Japan, thinking he had the law on his side. He showed NewsChannel 5 an official Japanese document that listed him as having joint custody of the children.”

      I can’t possibly think of any legal document in Japanese that gives you “joint custody of children” in the same legal sense that the term means elsewhere in the world. I can only guess that he showed the Japanese illiterate reporter a copy of his 戸籍 {koseki} or 住民票 {jūminhyō}. In other words, he thinks (or rather he wants others to believe) that his Japanese citizenship gives him “joint custody!” If so, he’s being extremely deceptive.

      Am I mistaken?

    14. GoChris Says:

      Joe says: “If he has no charges pending against him, then there is nothing preventing Dr. Savoie from returning to Japan.”

      Straw man much? I don’t see any mention of Savoie not returning down the track. That being said, he was harshly incarcerated for 3 weeks, ultimately without any charges laid. I can’t imagine he is in a rush to return.

      Joe says: “And if he is legally married in Japan, and there is no sort of restraining order barring him from his families presence, then there is nothing preventing him from seeing his children.”

      Apart from the ex-wife and in-laws.

      Joe says: “So if he’s “dead to the children”, then that’s only because he has decided that it be so.”

      No, that is what Japan has decided for him

    15. debito Says:

      CNN interview on Christopher Savoie’s next steps:

      Also adds about “sanitary conditions” in Japanese jail. Said he had dysentery for a week after return to US.

    16. Joe Says:

      Joe says: “So if he’s ‘dead to the children’, then that’s only because he has decided that it be so.”

      GoChris replies: “No, that is what Japan has decided for him”

      Randy Pausch said: “Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people.”

      Christopher Savoie wanted his children badly enough to go to Japan, attempt to steal them back, and then, when that didn’t work, “got out of Dodge” at the first opportunity. And I guess he also wants them badly enough to go on American television and claim “woe is me” to those who will listen. Beyond that, it seems as though he’s pretty well given up, even though there are still plenty of things he could do to show that his children mean more to him than his own personal comfort.

      In my opinion, he did just enough so that nobody could blame him for moving on with Amy and never bothering with his old family again.

    17. John (Yokohama) Says:

      “Prosecutor drops child-snatching case against U.S. man”

    18. Eido Inoue Says:

      My wife tells me that the only way she knows of to get 共同監護 (kyōdō kango; joint custody) written on a Japanese document is to divorce in the States and get joint custody there, then have the 戸籍 (koseki; family register) updated to reflect the status of the divorce/custody overseas. However, just because the 戸籍 notes the U.S. status does NOT mean that the U.S. custody arrangements is recognized in Japan. It’s simply a note of your custody status overseas.

      And here’s where Chris might be in a bit of a pickle: he can’t get his 戸籍 updated with his U.S. custody status, because one of the documents they require is the Japanese passport (to show that you in fact live overseas as a Japanese).

      The problem with Chris’ Japanese passport, though, is it has no U.S. visa in it. Meaning that the one bureaucracy in Japan that actually cares about whether he has properly naturalized would have paperwork proof right in front of its face showing that he flouted the rules and he kept his U.S. passport. Which would probably deep six his Japanese citizenship and deep six his 戸籍.

      This could also explain why he hasn’t properly divorced in Japan.

    19. GoChris Says:

      Joe: Savoie was arrested in front of his children, incarcerated for 3+ weeks and ended up with dysentery. In “your opinion”, he planned all that?

      And to repeat – nowhere has Savoie said that he has given up. I hope he keeps at it, not only for the sake of his children, but also to stick it up yamato-apologists like yourself and Eido Inoue.

    20. EnufAlready Says:

      A “grieving father burying his kids”; his kids are “dead to him”- statements that have a certainly finality and sense of closure. Perhaps he meant to say he is essentially dead to his kids.
      As a father, my children will never be “dead to me”- regardless of what happens or where they are.

      When asked point blank if he would try to resolve it through mediation, he responded by saying it probably wasn’t going to happen with no explanation. Begs the question- He will do anything to get his kids back except talk to his ex-wife?
      He then went on to talk about the “primacy” of US law and compared his kids to a high level contract dispute between corporations. Seems like a Michael Dukakis moment to me-

      Given his ever shifting story, I personally am reluctant to take his word as gospel. Was his plan to ensure his kids had access to both parents or to punish his wife/ex-wife for taking them away?

      If he had been successful, would we have ever heard of him? Would it have changed the system?

      Not a Yamato apologist, Japan needs to change. His actions shed some light, but undermine the efforts of everyone fighting for real reforms.

    21. LeeJ Says:

      I have one basic question that I’m hoping Debito or other readers might be able to answer. And I’ll preface this with saying that I’m ignorant on this – so please don’t slam me too hard.

      In the grand scheme of things, if Savoie was a naturalized citizen of Japan, then wouldn’t he be (technically) required to relinquish his US passport? And if this is the case wouldn’t he not be able to file divorce proceedings in the US, as he wasn’t a US citizen any longer?

      — The GOJ requires you to relinquish but hardly enforces it. The US doesn’t mind dual nationality and won’t enforce it. Probably tens of thousands of people (mostly children of international marriages aged 20 and beyond) keep both (we have no statistics, it’s pretty hush-hush). I also know plenty of naturalized people into Japan (not me) who keep both, as I’ve known plenty of J who naturalized overseas who kept both. The point is, keeping both is more than common — it’s common sense.

    22. Eido Inoue Says:

      GoChris: so vetting and critically examining Savoie makes us yamato-apologists? is about Japan activism and reform. It’s not a place where yamato-apologist hang out.

      Did it ever occur to you that the reason we’re concerned about the Savoie case being so high profile is not because we love the status quo, but rather we think that his actions could possibly HARM and setback the marriage/divorce/custody reform in Japan?

      Getting on CNN and CBS and getting some senators to sign a letter is no slam dunk path to progress. Just ask the people against whale/dolphin hunting. There are plenty of examples in the U.S. media where people get their 15 minutes of fame, THEN they’re vetted, and they end of setting back the movement they were trying to help rather than pushing it forward. Not everyone believes that “there is no such thing as bad press.”

      As Debito mentions in an earlier post, all divorces are complicated, the children usually suffer, and nobody is perfect. But Chris Savoie takes the “divorce is complicated” theme and turns the volume up to 11+α.

      I hope that the Savoies (both Noriko and Chris and Amy and the kids) find peace and happiness and family harmony. That being said, not everybody agrees that the Savoie case should be used as the catalyst for reform.

      If Chris wants to become the public face for Japanese family law reform (the fact that he hired a publicist suggests to me “yes”) and be the very public face for all of us with skin in the game (fathers with Japanese ties), it would be irresponsible of us NOT to examine him and be willingly blind cheerleaders.

      Because I guarantee you, once this escalates to the policy maker level — if it hasn’t already — the scrutiny he’ll get from the actual decision makers will be far more severe than the examination he’s getting in the U.S. mainstream media. And these people will not be moved or influenced by U.S. cable news.

      So though I desire Japanese family law reform (among other things), I’m not comfortable with him representing my interests. If that makes me a yamato-apologist, mea culpa.

    23. Joe Says:

      Debito: The GOJ requires you to relinquish [other country passports] but hardly enforces it…the point is, keeping both is more than common — it’s common sense.

      So while you believe in hotels upholding to the letter of the law, you have no problem advising people to break Japan’s naturalisation laws if the situation works in their favor and the law will not be enforced?

      That almost sounds like an argument in favor of Noriko.

      — Hardly.

    24. EnufAlready Says:

      Apparently it is open season for child abduction/ re-abduction in Japan.
      If the Japan Times and Fukuoka prosecutor’s office are to be believed, as long as your “intent is to see your kids”- anything goes.

      Elegantly simple way to “solve” the problem- ignore it completely from both sides.

      For the “best interest of the child” and “rule of law”, a wonderful precedent has been set, eh?

    25. LeeJ Says:

      Debito, thanks for your reply regarding naturalization. The reason for the question is primarily out of curiosity on how Savoie “legally” can file divorce papers in the US as he’s not a US citizen. It seems logical that he would need to do this in Japan, where it appears he likely would not be granted custody or apparently visitation based on what many people have written. I must also agree that hopefully he will not become the face of legal reforms as he appears to have enough skeletons in his closet that might hamper both his efforts and others.

      — Clearly Christopher is still an American citizen. He has said as such when he went to the Fukuoka Consulate.

    26. Aaron Batty Says:

      I dunno folks, this whole thing has stunk to me since the first time I read it. Now you throw a passport into the mix and I just don’t know if we can believe much of what this fellow says.

      In any case, I don’t think it’s a good poster-child for this issue.

    27. Mark B. Says:

      Some points concerning citizenship and passports:

      1) The Japanese authorities cannot remove someone’s American citizenship, or (legally) take away or cancel their US passport. (An obvious point, but there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding of citizenship issues.)

      2) A passport isn’t nationality. It is basically a travel document, proof of nationality, and proof of identity. But it is not nationality: you can, for example, have nationality of a country but no passport, or you could hold an expired passport, which is invalid for travel but has no effect on your citizenship. And you can lose your passport or have it stolen, again without losing your nationality. So, while it can be convenient to say passport when what’s really meant is nationality, it’s not always appropriate, and often the distinction is crucial.

      3) It is not illegal for someone with Japanese citizenship to hold dual nationality.

      4) It is very difficult – perhaps almost impossible – for the authorities to remove someone’s Japanese citizenship, and very rare. I would be somewhat surprised if any of the people who here and in other forums imply that it is _illegal_ under Japanese law to hold Japanese and foreign citizenship could cite a single case where Japanese citizenship has been revoked through a court or by some other official, legal method. Whereas dual nationals with Japanese citizenship are very far from uncommon.

      5) On the other hand, a procedure exists whereby _you_ can give up Japanese citizenship, and certain authorities in Japan can try to convince you that you must do this. However, if you do, it is in effect a voluntary action, set in motion by you. Fewer people are likely to do this now that full information is easily available to them through the Internet. Most people who hold dual citizenship would see no reason to give it up if they could avoid it.

      6) A final quibble, with Debito’s comment: while Savoie may be an American citizen, and I happen to assume he is, the fact that he said so would be insufficient proof – unless he showed appropriate documentation (presumably it would have to be a passport). I don’t believe in his right to admittance just because he was in a hurry or because he can say the words “Let me in, I’m American”. I could say that too, and I’m British. His word is no proof at all, and citizenship is tricky – not something that should be judged only by appearances.

      — Regarding the quibble: According to at least one published source, Savoie was in touch with the US State Department in advance and it looks as though the Fukuoka Consulate knew he was coming.

      “Even before Savoie traveled to Japan, he contacted the State Department’s Office for Citizen Services to ask for advice on how to get his children out of Japan. State Department officials advised Savoie that because a U.S. court had awarded him sole custody on Aug. 17, he could apply for new passports for the children if he could get them to the Fukuoka consulate.” — October 8, 2009

      So he made it clear to them that he was an American citizen in need of assistance in advance. It doesn’t seem to have been a surprise Open Sesame situation judged only by appearances.

    28. Jerry Says:

      Just a quick note. We do not know if his marriage or divorce were legally registered in Japan.

      One would assume that his marriage was registered.

      But since he was legally divorced in the USA it is a relatively simple act for his ex-wife to take that document and have it registered in Japan. And since she had legal custody per the divorce decree (even joint custody) more than likely the officials would have put the children on her koseki with her having sole custody (unless she requested something different which would seem unlikely).

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