Examiner.com: Divorce is tough, but divorce in Japan—especially if you’re a foreigner with kids—is a nightmare, explains Sapporo-based author Arudou Debito in his new book, “In Appropriate: A Novel of Culture, Kidnapping, and Revenge in Modern Japan”.
Originally raised in rural upstate New York as David Aldwinckle, Debito is a 23-year resident of Japan who obtained Japanese citizenship (and a name change) in 2000. As the Just Be Cause columnist at The Japan Times newspaper, his nonfiction books include Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants, and Japanese Only: The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japan.
A longtime watchdog for foreigners’ rights in Japan, Debito’s first English-language novel takes a scalpel to the polite, friendly façade that tourists typically experience. In Appropriate examines the downright ugly aspects of Japanese life when a father is cut from all ties with his children post-divorce, which is not only common in Japan, but upheld by 19th century law. In this exclusive interview, Debito discusses his personal experiences that inspired the book, his history as an activist, and his thoughts on the future of Japan.
Q: You’ve been known as an activist for over a decade and have published non-fiction works on the subject. What inspired you to write about child abduction in Japan, and what were your goals?
DEBITO: My goal with In Appropriate was to expose a dire social problem, as usual. But this time I thought fiction would be the better medium. Doing what I do, I hear a lot of stories about broken marriages in Japan, and having gone through a nasty divorce myself (seeing my children only about six times since 2003), I know a little bit about child abduction. What goes on in Japan beggars belief, but it’s hard to zero in on one non-fiction case and expect it to cover the scope of the problem.
Although international child abductions in other countries have gotten some press, the situation in Japan is much, much worse. Child abductions and parental alienation in Japan are, in a word, systematic—meaning they are hardly uncommon between Japanese, too (former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi is a famous example; he never saw one of his sons for nearly two decades). One parent after a divorce is generally expected to disappear, and have little to no contact with the children anymore. In Appropriate was meant as a primer to the issue.
Japan has no system of joint custody or guaranteed visitation rights, and under this system I cannot recommend anyone, Japanese or non-Japanese (NJ), get married under it and consider having children. The risk is too great. We need fundamental reform of the Family Registry System and the laws governing divorce and child custody first.
Q: Give us a basic overview on the phenomenon of kidnapping and left-behind parents in Japan….