Court Transcripts of Christopher vs. Noriko Savoie re child abduction


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Hi Blog.  Obviously since yesterday the Savoie Child Abduction Case has gotten a lot more complicated.  So let’s go to the primary source information:  the sworn testimonies of the parties to the case.

Now, divorces are generally nasty messy affairs with both sides at fault and deserving of criticism. But the fact is that wife Noriko Savoie negotiated in bad faith, broke her promises, abducted the children, and committed a criminal offense, and she should not be allowed to get away with it. Or else it just encourages other Japanese to take the kids and run (or threaten to) whenever there’s a domestic dispute. This situation as it stands will also remain a deterrent to people marrying Japanese, and is ultimately defeating of Japan’s intent to stem the demographic juggernaut that is Japan’s falling population.

Courtesy of David in yesterday’s comments (thanks), here are the last seventy pages of testimony in Tennessee court.


There was a restraining order against Noriko Savoie filed due to various threats from Noriko to abduct the children (page 94).

She promised in court under oath that she would not do that.

She obviously lied.

She came to the US willingly, knowing how things would turn out (i.e. divorce, not reconciliation):

(pg 121)
THE COURT: And she clearly understood that when she was
coming to the United States, she wasn’t coming
here to reconcile . And it was clear she came here knowing that
her husband was involved with another woman, and
she came here knowing that he wanted a divorce.

and a social worker testified that she was in fact acclimatizing to the US and would probably stay (pg 109).

Noriko even tried to use the allegation of husband Christopher’s Japanese citizenship (which looks like it may be true, although given the relatively amount of time Christopher was in Japan it was gleaned awfully quickly) against him to say that he had the same rights as a Japanese. Which he technically would (but not positively, when Japanese have so few rights between them regarding child custody and visitation following divorce anyway), but then again probably not (as the court admits, see below).

Court testimony excerpts follow, then further commentary from me:

I don’t have any plans to
return to Japan or move to Japan, I haven’t had
any plans to move to Japan since I entered the
final decree
. (page 80)

(page 88-89)
… you put in writing to him
February 12th that “it is very hard to watch the kids
become American and losing their Japanese identity . I
have tremendous fear for my children and myself . I’m
overwhelmed without a problem . Therefore, please
cooperate with me in order for us to stay here”?

A. Correct.

Q. The only way I can read that is that was a threat
to him ; that if you don’t do what I want you to do, I’m
going to take your children and you will never see them
again . You understand his fear?

A I do understand his fear; however —

Q. Well, what can you do today to alleviate that
fear ; what can you do, what can you say to Judge Martin,
what can you say to their father that assures us that
when you get to Japan —

A. Yes.

Q. — you will not let your parents and your friends
and your — as you said, all the people that came to the
airport, influence you to just stay there ; what
assurance do we have?

A. Yes, actually that’s why I brought this here .
First of all, I have never thought about taking children
away from their father, never . And — but based on
that —

Q. Well, let me ask you this — and I’ll ask the
questions, if you would — do you have plans to take
your children and move to Japan?

A . No, I don’t .

(pg 96-97)
NORIKO: Yes, I actually want to say because if you
talking about based on he has no authority in Japan,
however, he is Japanese citizen ; he is not — Hague
Convention has nothing to do with him, because that is
between American citizen and Japanese citizen .

THE COURT : Ms . Savoie, let me just say that
this kind of discussion concerns the Court . I
really don’t care what his rights are in Japan .
What I care about is ensuring that you don’t take
these children permanently to Japan .


THE COURT : You’ll never convince this Court
that this gentleman has the same rights that you
have in Japan to freely enforce the terms of this
order, because every bit of the law that I’ve
ever seen as mediator — and this case was
presented – and this case, by the way, was
discussed in mediation, so that’s not anything
new either .So for you to try to convince the Court now
that Dr . Savoie has the full ability to enforce a
foreign decree in Japan, is not going to be very
productive . That causes me concern that you
might have some intent to move that you said you
do not have . See what I’m saying?

THE WITNESS : Yes, Sir, I understand .

THE COURT: They’re inconsistent positions .
On the one hand you say, “I’m not moving, I’ve
made no plans to move, I intend to go on vacation
and return here and bring the children back
here”; on the other hand you’re saying, “but he
has full rights to enforce the decree in Japan .”
Well, if you have no intent to move, why do you —

THE WITNESS : Yes, Sir .

THE COURT: — try to convince the Court
that he has the full rights to enforce a foreign
decree in Japan . There’s no reason to try to go
there . You see what I’m saying?

(skip to page 100)

THE WITNESS : Yes . However, he won’t see
them again that — that part is that concern
before me that from a long time ago, like I said
I’ve never split children and father . I know how
important father is for children, and I am not
going to do that . I keep telling him I’m not
going to do that .

(skip to page 119-120)
I think Ms . Savoie understands that if she
elects to go to Japan and not return, she’s going
to lose her alimony, because the Court’s going to
pay it into court ; she’s going to have problems
with her child support ; she’s going to have
problems with her education fund ; she’s going to
be fighting her husband in the courts of Japan ;
and it just — it’s going to be a terrible mess
for her and the children if she pursues that, and
the Court has no reason to believe that she
doesn’t understand that or that she intends to
pursue that .

But on the other hand, obviously Dr . Savoie
is not convinced that his former wife is acting
with him in good faith . Frankly, I don’t know
that he will ever be convinced until time passes
and she’s made trips to Japan and she’s returned
from Japan, and the children seem to be
acclimating to the notion that they have two
cultures that form them ; one is a Japanese
culture and the other is an American culture, and
they’re part Japanese, they’re part American,
they have part Japanese heritage, they have part
American heritage, and they’re entitled to know
both heritages, they’re entitled to know
grandparents from their Japanese heritage .

And what she will do when she gets to Japan
and she’s under the pressure of her family and
friends to stay there and not return, remains to
be seen.

(pg 121)
THE COURT: And she clearly understood that when she was
coming to the United States, she wasn’t coming
here to reconcile . And it was clear she came here knowing that
her husband was involved with another woman, and
she came here knowing that he wanted a divorce .
(snip, pg 122)
And it’s clear to this Court that it’s in
the best interest of these children that these
children–and I’ll say it again–have a
relationship with their father, and that they
also understand their Japanese culture and
heritage, and it’s part of their makeup, and that
they unde, and their American culture and
heritage as part of their makeup .
So based on the limited issue that’s before
me, the Court’s going to dissolve the restraining

COMMENT FROM DEBITO:  So the retraining order gets dissolved and Noriko breaks her sworn promises.  That is the background to the case.  Her current extraterritoriality notwithstanding, she broke the law, and now there’s an arrest warrant out on her.  That’s what occasioned Christopher taking the drastic actions that he did.

Now, speaking as a left-behind parent myself might be coloring my attitude towards this issue. But divorces are nearly always messy and fault can be found with both sides in mediations. And the fact remains that Noriko did what so many Japanese will do in these situations — abduct the children and claim Japan as a safe haven. Then the children are NEVER returned, and usually contact is completely broken off with the left-behind parent for the remainder of the childhood.

This is an untenable situation. And it must stop. For the sake of the children. This in my mind is undisputable. The children must be returned to Dr Savoie in order to discourage this sort of thing happening again. Anything else is just more encouragement for Japanese to abduct their children.

More media up on the case later today.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

Tokyo Shinbun and Mainichi weigh in on Savoie Abduction Case


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Hi Blog. Domestic press is beginning to weigh in on this case. (It’s getting too big to ignore.)

I have the feeling the wagons are circling, and the “Japanese as perpetual victim no matter what” style of reporting is starting to emerge. Like we’ve seen before. Debito in Sapporo

Here are some domestic articles sent to me by KY. Interpretation is KY’s. (Feel free to send in more in the Comments section. Please be sure to include full text with the links.)


The Japanese news’s take on things, at least as represented online:

Tokyo Shinbun presents a pretty matter-of-fact, if unsymathetic view

わが子『奪還』の米人元夫 略取容疑、日本で逮捕
2009年9月30日 夕刊



Mainichi Shinbun basically condemns the father:
連れ去り:離婚した元妻から、通学の2人 容疑者逮捕‐‐福岡・柳川
毎日新聞 2009年9月29日 西部朝刊




The second article is absolutely horrible, it says that custody was with the mother
(which doesn’t seem true if all of the other articles are correct) and that Savoie
forced his kids into his car…. which may or may not be true, but doesn’t seem to
come from any real source. I’ve seen nothing so far that indicates whether or not
the kids wanted to go with their father or stay with their mother, and taking such a

biased article’s word for it doesn’t seem like a good idea.
And those are the only two official news stories I’ve been able to find in Japanese.


Candlelight vigil re Christopher Savoie arrest Sat Oct 3 2PM outside Japanese Embassy to US in Wash DC (corrected)


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FYI: (sorry, corrected)

“Rally and Candelight Vigil to Free Christopher Savoie” on Saturday, October 3 at 2:00pm.

Event: Rally and Candelight Vigil to Free Christopher Savoie
What: Rally
Start Time: Saturday, October 3 at 2:00pm
End Time: Saturday, October 3 at 5:00pm
Where: In front of the Japanese Embassy to the United States

More information:


CBS EARLY SHOW on the Savoie Child Abduction Case


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Quick Update.  CBS News’s EARLY SHOW on the Savoie Child Abduction Case, reenacting the US Consulate Fukuoka’s refusal to open the gates, guests Amy Savoie and Patrick Braden.;photovideo

Courtesy of Mark at Children’s Rights Network Japan.  More updates in real time at

Arudou Debito in Sapporo

US Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) calls for action against Japan’s child abductions, introduces legislation to US Congress


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Courtesy Paul Toland.  Emphases in original.  Arudou Debito


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Jeff Sagnip (609) 585-7878

Sept. 29, 2009                                                                   

Smith Legislation Sanctions Countries that Refuse to Help Left-Behind Parents

Father Arrested in Japan Underscores Need for Reforms

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The case of an American father who has been arrested in Japan for attempting to regain access to his children, taken to Japan by his ex-wife in violation of a U.S. court order, is helping to raise awareness of the increasing problem of international parental child abduction and the heartbreak and frustration suffered by the parents left behind.

“International child abduction violates the rights of the left behind parent and the rights of the child to know both parents,” said Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), a senior Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a Congressional Representative to the United Nations.  “Sadly, international child abductions are on the increase.  In the last three years, reported international child abductions have increased 60 percent.”

Christopher Savoie of Tennessee was arrested earlier this week in Japan after he attempted to reclaim his two children who were taken to Japan by his ex-wife a month ago in direct violation of a U.S. court order. Savoie was taken into custody and is facing criminal charges.

Historically, parents left behind when their children are abducted to Japan have little hope and little recourse for justice because the Japanese government ignores U.S. family court rulings and will not honor the rights of American parents.  Even in “extreme cases” such as when the abducting parent passes away, the Japanese government has not returned the child to the left behind parent. In fact, there is no known case of Japan ever returning an abducted  Japanese-American child to the left behind parent.

“There is an opportunity here to turn a new page,” Smith said. “There is a glimmer of hope, and some encouraging signs that the new administration under the leadership of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama will approach the issue of international parental child abduction in a way that recognizes the right of the adult parent.  The case of Chris Savoie sheds light on the more than 100 open cases  of American parents who have been blocked from their rightful access to their children in Japan.

“I urge the Prime Minister to see this incident as a catalyst,” Smith said. He should form a task force and deal expeditiously, compassionately and judiciously to bring reconciliation and reunification to children abducted to Japan and their parents left behind.”

Smith has been working to push the U.S. Congress and the Obama Administration to better address international child abductions in Japan and elsewhere around the world. In July, he introduced the “International Child Abduction Prevention Act of 2009”, H.R. 3240, at a press conference alongside left behind parents from across the country whose children have been abducted to Japan and Brazil (bill summary). One case has garnered significant attention: David Goldman the father of abducted American-born Sean Goldman, now 9, has been fighting to bring Sean home from Brazil for more than five years. There are currently over 2,800 American children being held in foreign countries against the wishes of a left behind parent.

“My legislation, HR 3240 empowers the United States to more aggressively pursue the resolution of abduction cases,” Smith said.  “Our current system is not providing justice for left behind parents or for children whisked away from their mom or dad. Congress must act so that more children are not further traumatized by parental abduction.”

Key provisions of the Smith legislation include:

  • Requires the President to respond with a range of mutually reinforcing penalties, including sanctions against a country, when that country has shown a pattern of non-cooperation in resolving child abduction cases
  • Creates the position of Ambassador at Large for International Child Abduction within the State Department to advise the Secretary of State and raise the profile of the more than 2,800 children who have been abducted.
  • Empowers the Ambassador at Large to pursue additional legal frameworks abroad, including bilateral agreements with countries that have not yet acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
  • Authorizes greater resources for a new office within the State Department to better assist left behind parents and expand the State Department’s ability to collect detailed information on abductions.

Child abduction is child abuse,” Smith said. “The kidnapped child is at risk for serious emotional and psychological problems. As adults, they may struggle with identity issues, their own personal relationships and parenting.

“We can and must do better to help children abducted by a parent and to assist the parents left behind.


CNN and NBC TODAY Show: American attempts to recover his abducted kids, is turned away from Fukuoka Consulate, arrested for “kidnapping”


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Hi Blog. This has been big news all of yesterday. (I’m pretty strict about only doing one major blog post per day — otherwise I’d have floods and famines of news instead of dribs and drabs — so sorry for the delay on reporting this. And thanks to the dozens of people who sent articles.  Here goes:)

An American named Christopher Savoie faced a case of child abduction when his Japanese ex-wife Noriko did something that is increasingly coming to light (and has been featured prominently on in the past):  abducted their children to Japan.

Japan has now become truly infamous as a haven for international child abductions, due not only to its non-signatory status vis-a-vis the Hague Treaty on International Child Abductions, but also because its problematic koseki Family Registry system enables one parent sole custody of the kids (and no visitation rights — I know:  I’m divorced, and despite Japanese citizenship, I’ve seen one of my daughters all of *once* over the past close to five years): abduction and lack of contact in Japan happens regardless of nationality, but it’s particularly disadvantageous for NJ because they don’t even have a koseki to put their children on (not to mention the difficulty of conducting an intercontinental custody battle).

This issue has been brought up numerous times internationally over the years, to a lot of handwringing (and some biased domestic media coverage) on the part of Japan. Consequently, no abducted child to Japan, according to a number of embassies and and the upcoming documentary FROM THE SHADOWS, has EVER been returned. Even though, in Mr Savoie’s case, he was awarded custody of his children by a Tennessee court, and there is an arrest warrant out for his wife in the US.

So Mr Savoie did something I consider very brave.  He came to Japan and tried to retrieve his children.  He put them in his car and did a runner for the Fukuoka US Consulate.  However, according to online and word-of-mouth sources familiar with this case, the American Consulate would not open the gate for him.  One left-behind father commented to a mailing list thusly:

It does not surprise me one bit. I met with the U.S. Embassy in Okinawa shortly after my daughter was abducted and I found her there [in Okinawa]. They told me flat out that is what they would do if I tried to bring her [to the Consulate], in spite of the U.S. Warrants for her mother’s arrest and the U.S. Court papers showing that I had full unconditional custody of my daughter.

I’ve known for quite some time that the USG is quite unhelpful towards its citizens, but this is getting ridiculous.  Especially since the children are also US citizens.

Mr Savoie was then arrested by Japanese police and charged with kidnapping — a charge that may incarcerate him for up to five years, and his outcome at this writing remains uncertain.

But it’s about time somebody took a stand like this, if you ask me, since no other channels are working (witness what happened in the very similar Murray Wood Case), and nothing short of this is probably going to draw the attention this situation needs.  Bravo Mr Savoie!

CNN has been the leader on reporting this case, and anchor Campbell Brown did an excellent report at 10:40 AM JST (I watched it intercontinentally over skype with a friend), with CNN’s legal counsel commenting agape at how Japan’s courts ignore overseas rulings and allow one family to capture the kids after divorce.  They also had an interview with Paul Toland, a commander in the US Navy, who similarly lost his child 6 years ago — and when his ex-wife died two years ago, the Japanese courts awarded custody to his Japanese mother-in-law!  Very, very sobering.

See that report here:

Download that report in mp4 format here:

Anderson Cooper also took it up, guest-starring Christopher’s current wife Amy Savoie and international lawyer Jeremy Morley:

NBC’s TODAY Show took this up this morning US time, with special guests Jeremy Morley, FROM THE SHADOWS director Matt Antell, and Amy again (can’t embed, so click):

CNNj’s Kyung Lah, however, did some pretty lackluster reporting, where they ended the show with relativities and how Noriko too is legally permitted the kids in Japan.  Aw shucks.  Don’t it just sting when people do these things to each other, don’tcha know?  Why can’t we just all get along?

Local TV in Nashville, Tennessee did a much better job, reporting surprising negligence on the part of the local judge who granted Noriko the right to leave the country in the first place with the kids, despite advance evidence in writing that Noriko was threatening to abduct them (the judge declined to comment for the report).  Text and TV here:

Finally, some more media courtesy of the assiduous coverage of Mark at the Children’s Rights Network Japan (CRN), your one-stop shopping for all information relating to international child abduction cases involving Japanese.  Recent news stories up at CRN about the issue here.  And just go here for the latest in real time:

The latest: CNN reports the GOJ claiming Savoie is a naturalized Japanese citizen!  See article at very bottom as this story keeps mushrooming…

Arudou Debito in Sapporo



A Story that CRN Japan reported on just last week has taken a sorry turn!

TOKYO, Japan (CNN September 29, 2009) — Had this parental abduction drama played out in the United States, Christopher Savoie might be considered a hero — snatching his two little children back from an ex-wife who defied the law and ran off with them.

A Tennessee court awarded Christopher Savoie custody of his son, Isaac, and daughter, Rebecca.

But this story unfolds 7,000 miles away in the Japanese city of Fukuoka, where the U.S. legal system holds no sway.

And here, Savoie sits in jail, charged with the abduction of minors. And his Japanese ex-wife — a fugitive in the United States for taking his children from Tennessee — is considered the victim.

“Japan is an important partner and friend of the U.S., but on this issue, our points of view differ,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Tuesday. “Our two nations approach divorce and child-rearing differently. Parental child abduction is not considered a crime in Japan.”

The story begins in Franklin, Tennessee, with the divorce of Savoie from his first wife, Noriko, a Japanese native.

The ex-wife had agreed to live in Franklin to be close to the children, taking them to Japan for summer vacations.

But in August — on the first day of classes for 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — the school called to say they hadn’t arrived.

Worried, Savoie called his ex-wife’s father in Japan, who told him not to worry.

“I said, ‘What do you mean — don’t worry? They weren’t at school.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry, they are here,’ ” Savoie recounted the conversation to CNN affiliate WTVF earlier this month. “I said, ‘They are what, they are what, they are in Japan?’ ”

After the abduction, a court in Williamson County, Tennessee, granted Savoie full custody of the children. And Franklin police issued an arrest warrant for his ex-wife, the television station reported.

But there was a major hitch: Japan is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction.

The international agreement standardizes laws, but only among participating countries.

So while Japanese civil law stresses that courts resolve custody issues based on the best interest of the children without regard to the parent’s nationality, foreign parents have had little success in regaining custody.

Japanese family law follows a tradition of sole custody divorces. When a couple splits, one parent typically makes a complete and lifelong break from the children.

The International Association for Parent-Child Reunion, formed in Japan this year, claims to know of more than 100 cases of children abducted by noncustodial Japanese parents.

And the U.S. State Department says it is not aware of a single case in which a child taken from the United States to Japan has been ordered returned by Japanese courts — even when the left-behind parent has a U.S. custody decree.

Saddled with such statistics and the possibility of never seeing his kids again, Savoie took matters into his own hands.

He flew to Fukuoka. And as his ex-wife walked the two children to school Monday morning, Savoie drove alongside them.

He grabbed them, forced them into his car, and drove off, said police in Fukuoka.

He headed for the U.S. consulate in Fukuoka to try to obtain passports for Isaac and Rebecca.

But Japanese police, alerted by Savoie’s ex-wife, were waiting.

Consulate spokeswoman Tracy Taylor said she heard a scuffle outside the doors of the consulate. She ran up and saw a little girl and a man, whom police were trying to talk to.

Eventually, police took Savoie away, charging him with the abduction of minors — a crime that upon conviction carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

The consulate met with Savoie on Monday and Tuesday, Taylor said. It has provided him with a list of local lawyers and said it will continue to assist.

Meanwhile, the international diplomacy continues. During the first official talks between the United States and Japan’s new government, the issue of parental abductions was raised.

But it is anybody’s guess what happens next to Savoie, who sits in a jail cell.



Father, kids in custody case Japanese citizens, officials say

TOKYO, Japan (CNN September 30, 2009) — The case of a Tennessee man jailed in Japan for trying to snatch back his children from his estranged wife is not as clear-cut as it’s been made out to be, authorities here said Wednesday.

The father, Christopher Savoie, apparently became a naturalized Japanese citizen four years ago, listing a permanent address in Tokyo, they said.

And while he and Noriko Savoie, a Japanese native, divorced in Tennessee, the two never annulled their marriage in Japan, Japanese officials said.

Also, the two children at the center of the case hold Japanese passports, they said.

“His chances of getting his children back home to the States, I think, are pretty slim right now,” Jeremy Morley, Savoie’s lawyer in the United States, told CNN’s “AC 360” on Tuesday night. Watch how dad landed in Japanese jail »

“We’re getting this in the hands of Interpol. We’re putting the pressure,” he added. “We want diplomatic pressure. We want the United States government to act strongly.”

Savoie was arrested Monday when he snatched his two children — 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — as Noriko Savoie was walking them to school in Fukuoka, about 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Tokyo.

He headed for the U.S. consulate in that city to try to obtain passports for them, authorities said. But Japanese police, alerted by Noriko Savoie, arrested him.

Japanese authorities said Wednesday that Savoie was eating well and was staying in a jail cell by himself.

He will be held for 10 days while prosecutors sort out the details of the case. Watch a discussion of U.S.-Japan custody cases »

“I know he had to go to the hospital for blood pressure issues,” said Amy Savoie, whom Savoie married after divorcing Noriko Savoie in Tennessee in January. “The gentleman from the consulate was able to contact me this morning, and he confirmed that Christopher had gone to the hospital. The first night he needed medication for his high blood pressure.”

After their Tennessee divorce, Noriko Savoie agreed to live in Franklin, Tennessee, to be close to the children, taking them to Japan for summer vacations.

In March, Savoie requested a restraining order to prevent his wife from taking the children to Japan, fearing she would not return.

“I was on a speaker phone telephone call once when she proclaimed to him, ‘You have no idea what I’m capable of,” said Amy Savoie. “So, yes, he had the idea.”

Noriko Savoie could not be reached by CNN for comment.

On the day that the two children were to begin school in August, Savoie learned Noriko Savoie had fled with them to Japan.

After that, Savoie filed for and was granted full custody of the children by a Tennessee court. And Franklin police issued an arrest warrant for Noriko Savoie.

But Japan is not a party to a 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction.

Foreign parents have had little luck in regaining custody, the U.S. State Department said.

“She has committed a felony, the mother,” Morley said. “It’s a very serious felony. She would go to jail for serious time if she were here.

“But Japan has a different legal system and a different set of customs and ideas about custody. And their idea is that somebody who is Japanese and the mother should be entitled to have the kids and have the kids alone. The fact that they were living here is kind of irrelevant, and the fact that there’s a court order here is irrelevant.”

So, Savoie flew to Fukuoka to try to get back his children — and landed himself in jail.

“These kids are the ones that are suffering,” Morley said. “These kids are without their father, and their father needs to be a part of their life. It’s not fair that he’s been taken away from them.”

Sydney Morning Herald: Little hope for Japan’s Abandoned Fathers


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Hi Blog. The story about Japan as a safe haven for internationally abducted kids spreads from Canada to the US to Australia, this time in the Sydney Morning Herald. And this time, the crank lawyer, a Mr Onuki, who claimed that “90 per cent of cases in which the Japanese women return to Japan, the man is at fault, such as with domestic violence and child abuse”, finally gets a response (the Mainichi printed it without counter, the rotters). Meanwhile, the GOJ just keeps on dithering on the Hague Convention.  It’s one of Japan’s worst-kept secrets.  But not for long at this rate.  Keep on exposing.  Courtesy of Paul Wong. Arudou Debito in Sapporo


Little hope for Japan’s forsaken fathers

  • Abandoned … George Obiso, at his Gold Coast home, has held onto the books and videos his children left behind when their mother abducted them.

Abandoned … George Obiso, at his Gold Coast home, has held onto the books and videos his children left behind when their mother abducted them.
Photo: Steve Holland

Denial of child abduction as a crime is hurting those left behind, writes Justin Norrie in Tokyo.

FOUR years ago George Obiso’s former wife took his two young sons on a six-week holiday to Japan and never came back.Mr Obiso, 42, still recalls anxiously watching the clock in his Gold Coast home as he waited for their mother, Sachi Shimada, to return them on the designated day.

“I waited and waited. I kept listening out for their voices at the door, but they never came. Sachi had no intention of ever bringing them back,” says Mr Obiso, of Southport, who had split from his Japanese wife the previous year after she became depressed and withdrawn.

“Her family moved out of their Yokohama home, disconnected the phone and disappeared somewhere into Japan, so I couldn’t find them or even talk to my sons.

“It’s been four years. I’ve missed a large part of their childhood and I’m starting to doubt I’ll ever see them again. It’s been a horrible, horrible nightmare.”

Even if he found Anthony, now 12, and Jorge jnr, 8, Mr Obiso would be unlikely to get much sympathy from Japan’s family law courts. For almost 30 years, Japan has resisted pressure from other Group of Seven nations to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; as such its judiciary does not recognise parental child abduction as a crime.

Mr Obiso is one of hundreds of “left-behind” parents from international marriages whose children have been abducted by a spouse who in effect enjoys immunity in Japan from prosecution by local authorities.

The Hague convention, which has been signed by every other developed country, requires the “prompt return of children who have been abducted from their country of habitual residence”. Since it took effect, foreign parents have spent millions of dollars working their way through Japan’s bureaucratic court system in an effort to see their children again and take them home. No court has ever ruled in their favour.

Many more Japanese parents have been affected. There is no tradition of dual access, so when parents separate, one gets custody while the other typically never sees the children again.

Colin Jones, a professor at Doshisha University Law School in Kyoto, believes that Japan is essentially “a haven for parental child abduction”. This is largely because Japanese courts are entrenched in a national bureaucracy whose goal is to ratify “the status quo, particularly in child custody and visitation cases, where courts have few, if any, powers to enforce change”.

Because there is no substantive law defining the best interests of the child in cases of parental separation, ratifying the status quo invariably means deciding in favour of the parent who already has custody.

The problem is compounded in cases where there are allegations of abuse, as Paul Wong can attest. After the death of his Japanese wife, Akemi, from cancer in 2005, the US lawyer, 42, left his daughter Kaya, now 5, with her maternal grandparents in Kyoto and made fortnightly visits from Hong Kong, where he was working, while he looked for a job in Tokyo.

“I promised my wife before she died I would make sure Kaya knew her Japanese cultural heritage and her grandparents, so I decided to honour that and live with her in Japan,” he says. “Just as I was about to move to Tokyo, Akemi’s parents hit me with a lawsuit alleging I had sexually assaulted my own daughter. The lawsuit was full of so many crazy, disgusting lies. Akemi’s friends told me they blamed me for her death, and that’s why they wanted to take Kaya away.”

The court found the claims could not be substantiated by evidence, but ruled that custody should be given to the grandparents anyway.

“This has done irreparable harm not just to me, but to a sweet, innocent child,” says Mr Wong. “It’s gut-wrenching, but I simply can’t give up hope.”

Japanese family lawyers say allegations of sexual assault and domestic violence are common in parental child abduction cases. In a recent article in Mainichi Shimbun, a prominent family lawyer, Kensuke Onuki, said he opposed Japan signing the convention because “in more than 90 per cent of cases in which the Japanese women return to Japan, the man is at fault, such as with domestic violence and child abuse”. Whereas women can’t easily provide evidence of the abuse, he says, the men rarely have trouble drumming up attention in the media.

For fathers like Mr Wong, this claim “is insulting. It simply doesn’t make sense. If it’s the voices of foreign fathers that get heard, then why is it that not one foreigner has had his child returned to him? Not one – ever.”

“A lot of people are getting fed up with the way Japan is running around the world lobbying for diplomatic support over the few Japanese abductees to North Korea, when the country is permitting hundreds of its own citizens to do the same thing to foreign parents in broad daylight.”

In September, after a newspaper report claimed Japan would sign the convention as soon as 2010, the Australian embassy in Tokyo sent a “formal government-to-government communication … commending them and offering assistance,” an embassy official said.

But Japan’s Foreign Ministry subsequently distanced itself from the report. A spokesman said the Government was still considering signing the convention but had not made a decision.


Asian Pacific Law Journal on Japan as haven for parental child abduction.


Hi Blog. I included this as part of my previous newsletter on Japan’s judiciary, but it warrants a blog entry all its own. Don’t want it to get buried.

From Mark at Children’s Rights Network Japan. Debito


I would like to tell everyone about a new law journal article about Japanese family law that is now available. It’s written by a law professor in Japan who himself has been through the family court system all the way up to the Supreme Court.

First sentence: “Japan is a haven for parental child abduction.”

Need I say more? If you are married to a Japanese partner and have children, its a must read, even at 100 pages. Look for it here:

Colin P.A. Jones
Asian Pacific Law and Policy Journal
University of Hawaii
Volume 8, Issue 2, Spring 2007.

Happy Reading.