USG Asst Sec of State links post-divorce Japan child abductions with DPRK abductions of Japanese


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Hi Blog.  Some news on the Japan Child Abductions Issue, where Japan has long set itself up as a safe haven for one parent to abscond with their child following separation or divorce (regardless of whether the marriage was international or domestic), what with no joint custody and no guaranteed child visitation in Japan.  Thanks to the Koseki Family Registry system, the divorced couple becomes strangers to each other, and children go on only one parent’s koseki (with the other parent losing all legal title and access to their kids unless the custodial parent approves).  In cases of international/intercontinental separation or divorce, the Japanese partner can abduct their child to Japan (since Japan is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abductions, and the Japanese embassy does not enforceably require the permission of both parents to issue a Japanese child a Japanese passport), and that’s it — the kids are gone.  Japanese courts have always ruled that the absconder has established “habitual residence” in Japan by dint, so who dares wins.  Meanwhile, despite international protests about the GOJ not being a signatory to the Hague, Japan has been dragging its feet for years now on signing (and as I have argued in the past, will probably caveat its way out of enforcing it anyway, as it has done with other treaties (like the CERD and the ICCPR)).

Finally, enough has become enough for sensible people.  According to articles below, US Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell has once again come out in public making a link between the irony of all the tragedymaking regarding Japanese being kidnapped decades ago by the DPRK (which is indeed a tragedy, yes), yet the lack of tragedy over Japanese still kidnapping international kids.  Good.  We’ve made that comparison before here on, and were roundly condemned by the usual suspects for doing so.  (And, as a related tangent, I’ve probably criticized the most by people misquoting me as advocating that foreigners shouldn’t marry Japanese.  No, for the record, I’m saying NOBODY, Japanese or NJ, should get married and have children under the insane family law system in Japan; the risks are too great if parents separate).

As per articles below, the Japanese press is of course rallying the public behind the home team via editorial camouflaged as news (it’s hard to discern even what Campbell actually said).  It’s even trying to instruct the Japanese public how English is different than Japanese.  You see, if a North Korean kidnaps a Japanese, its “abduction” (rachi).  But if a Japanese kidnaps an international child, its “tsuresari” (taking along and disappearing).  But you see, the English language is inflexible — it only has one word for this action:  “abduction”.  So it’s all one big “linguistic misunderstanding”.  Even though, in either case, abduction is what it is.

And if you really want to take this issue to the next level of linkage, consider this comment from a friend:

As noted in Wikipedia, “In 1944, the Japanese authorities extended the mobilization of Japanese civilians for labor to the Korean peninsula. Of the 5,400,000 Koreans conscripted, about 670,000 were taken to mainland Japan . . .”  And the Japanese have the audacity to complain about 20 or so Japanese abducted to North Korea?  The Japanese government should apologize and compensate the 5 million Koreans conscripted 70 years ago before uttering a single word about the actions of North Korea 35 years ago.

So underlying all of this is an issue of hypocrisy, and now the GOJ is probably going to have to resort to its only real defense when cornered on an issue:  agonistic posturing and outrage — trying to derail the issue in favor of maintaining “The Relationship”.  People have fallen for this before (after all, the US wants to keep its military bases and its market to sell inter alia weaponry).  But I’m not sure this issue is really big enough (I think Masumoto has an inflated sense of his own power) to do that.  Let’s keep our eyes on this one, since it’s a good case study of gaiatsu and GOJ policy in the making.  Arudou Debito


Abductees’ families protest Campbell’s remarks
NHK World Tuesday, May 08, 2012 14:31 +0900 (JST) Courtesy of CS

Families of Japanese nationals kidnapped by North Korea have protested an attempt by a senior US diplomat to link that issue to parental child abductions.

The families met with Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell in Washington on Monday. They say Campbell discussed parents who take their children to Japan without permission after the collapse of their marriages to US partners. They add that Campbell told them he wanted the 2 abduction issues simultaneously resolved and called for Japan’s cooperation.

After the meeting, a senior member of the group, Teruaki Masumoto, told reporters that they strongly rejected Campbell’s comments. He called it unacceptable to regard North Korea’s abductions, in which lives are at risk, in the same light as the custody of children between couples.

The US side reportedly explained that whether they are by a state or by parents after a failed relationship, they are still abductions, highlighting a difference in how the North Korean abductions issue is perceived.


Campbell’s remarks irk kin of Japanese victims of abduction
Mainichi Shimbun May 08, 2012

WASHINGTON (Kyodo) — The families of some Japanese victims of abduction by North Korea said they were upset by remarks by Kurt Campbell, the top U.S. diplomat on East Asian policy, in their meeting Monday at which he urged Japan to address the issue of parental child abduction.

Campbell devoted nearly half of his time at the meeting at the State Department to stressing the importance of the parental child abduction issue, according to Teruaki Masumoto, whose sister Rumiko was abducted by North Korean agents.

The United States and other countries are currently pressing Japan to sign an international treaty on dealing with cases of parental child abductions.

Campbell brought the issue up despite saying it was not related to the abductions of Japanese by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, Masumoto said.

“I told the U.S. side that the parental child abduction is an issue that should be basically resolved between parents, while the abduction (of Japanese by North Korea) is a state crime and the abductees’ lives are at stake,” he told reporters in Washington.

“We cannot accept” that the two issues were raised at the same time, Masumoto added.

Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, was meeting with a Japanese group comprising family members of abduction victims and a cross-party group of Diet members dealing with the issue.

After Campbell later left the room, his deputy Jim Zumwalt explained to the Japanese side that Washington will continue to take up the abduction issue appropriately, Masumoto said.

If the Japanese pubic believed that Washington was linking the two issues, the relationship of trust that has been built between the two countries could collapse, he said.

“We will urge the United States to firmly understand that the abductions (by North Korea) are a vital matter,” he said.

Takeo Hiranuma, who heads the Diet members’ multiparty caucus, said he has no intention of raising the U.S. response in the meeting as a political issue.

U.S. officials with whom the families of the Japanese abductees and supporting lawmakers met included Robert King, special envoy for North Korean human rights, Glyn Davies, special representative for North Korean policy, and David Cohen, deputy secretary of treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence.

The Japanese group also provided the U.S. government with “convincing information” about David Sneddon, a native of Utah who was possibly abducted by North Korea while in China in 2004.

The group said they plan to meet with U.S. lawmakers from Utah on Tuesday.

Japan will seek Diet passage of a bill to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction during the current session through June.

Japan is the only member of the Group of Eight developed countries yet to join the treaty.



拉致と親権同一視と抗議 被害者家族、米高官に
西日本新聞 2012年5月8日 Courtesy of CS




ハーグ条約 子の連れ去りと同一視」 拉致家族会、抗議
東京新聞 2012年5月8日 夕刊 Courtesy of CS





14 comments on “USG Asst Sec of State links post-divorce Japan child abductions with DPRK abductions of Japanese

  • I believe the views of the Japanese government regarding the issue to be a bit misleading.

    It is true as they assert that the 2 sets of abductions are different in that in the case of the DPRK

    1) the senior leader personally approved the abductions; and
    2) the children in the DPRK were killed, tortured physically, beaten, and otherwise horribly maltreated.

    However, in the case of Japan, it is clearly the case that

    1) inaction — failure to seek Diet passage of a bill to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction — was personally approved by the senior leadership of Japan;
    2) the children in Japan were deprived of psychologically important emotional support and psychologically mistreated;


    3) Japan, as a self-professed liberal democracy, has a far higher duty than a theocratic psychopathic nation like DPRK to rule by law rather than by caprice or whim of a divine ruler.

    As such, Japan should act after more than 30 years to ratify the treaty and fully and completely effect that ratification.

  • The Japanese really do love to paint themselves as victims. As much as I love this country, this aspect of the culture is sickening.

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Here’s the bottom line. The Japanese government should be able to make it very clear why they need the US for help regarding their own abduction case. Taking advantage of US influence on nulcear talks in an attempt to resolve their issue of abduction o.n one hand, and showing unwillingness to engage in another issue of abduction affecting the interests of their partner is simply not fair. Somebody should give them a warning that the US would not involve in the issue between Japan and NK whatsoever, unless they can officially make a promise with the US to work on each agenda together as political reciprocity.

  • I find the whole 連れ帰り/連れ去り vs 拉致 thing really disturbing, to be honest. Abduction is abduction no matter how you word it, and as such it is worrying to see mainstream media portraying the two cases as fundamentally significantly different when they are not. I also agree with Charuzu’s point #3 that Japan should be held to a higher standard than a totalitarian monarchy.

  • Anonymous says:

    “Did you know the Japanese Government forced over 500万 Koreans to be slave-laborers for Japan,
    and of those 500万 Korean forced-labor-slaves, Japan abducted (拉致された) over 60万 Koreans to Japan.”

    “Well, that was 70 years ago, so it’s not a big deal.”

    “Oh really? 60万 Koreans Abducted by Japan to Japan 70 years ago is not a big deal,
    but 17 Japanese abducted by North Korea to North Korea 30 years ago is a big deal?”

    “Henna gaijin. Hanashi Niawanai. Mou, Kaere!”

  • John (Yokohama) says:

    “Divorced parents lack ways to meet kids / Ministry has asked local govts to help out, but so far only Tokyo has taken active steps”
    Daily Yomiuri (May. 10, 2012)

    “The welfare ministry has asked local governments to encourage meetings between divorced parents and their children by arranging and overseeing such encounters, but little progress has been made.

    The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry started a project this fiscal year to increase opportunities for parents to meet their children after a divorce by encouraging prefectural governments and those of 20 ordinance-designated major cities nationwide to help out.

    But among them, only the Tokyo metropolitan government has decided to begin to offer relevant services by the end of this fiscal year. The other 66 local governments will do so later, or have no plans.

    Though the local governments admitted the project is necessary, they said the services cannot be provided because they have no officials with know-how about such meeting arrangements.

    Thus it is an urgent task to train personnel who can implement the services.

    Experts have said that meeting with parents after they get divorced is important for the children’s growth.

    But in many cases, meetings by those directly involved are difficult to hold because of emotional conflicts.

    According to the Supreme Court, applications for parent-child meetings in 2010 numbered 7,749, an about 3.2-fold jump from 10 years ago.

    There have been many cases in which parents who have been refused permission to meet their children have taken matters into their own hands and absconded with them.

    Private organizations offering to arrange and oversee such meetings do exist, but there are too few of them to meet nationwide demand. Consequently, only a limited number of people can use the services of such organizations.

    A man in his 30s living in Hiroshima Prefecture apart from his wife and child while the couple’s divorce proceedings are under way said, “As my trusting relationship with my wife has been lost, I can’t even directly contact her.”

    He said an arbitration service by a nonprofit organization cost 18,000 yen for two hours. He said, “Public assistance is necessary.”

    In response to such opinions, starting in this fiscal year, the ministry decided to subsidize part of the costs if local governments of prefectures, major cities and regional core cities implement their own parent-child meeting services.

    The public services cover low-income earners with children under 15, and the services are free of charge.

    The idea is for officials of the local governments or other public entities to coordinate times and places for the meetings and also accompany the persons involved.

    Since autumn last year, the ministry has asked the local governments to proactively implement the services.

    However, in a survey conducted in April by The Yomiuri Shimbun on prefectural and major city governments, only the Tokyo metropolitan government replied it planned to introduce the service within this fiscal year.

    Forty-six of the local governments, or 69 percent, said they were still considering whether to introduce the service. Twenty, or 30 percent, replied that they had no plans to do so.

    On why such a service had not yet been introduced, a question for which multiple responses were permitted, 32 of the governments, or 48 percent, said they do not have officials or outside experts with expertise about such meetings, and 21 of them, or 32 percent, said they could not secure budgets for the purpose.

    Most of the surveyed local governments admitted the project is necessary. But the Kochi prefectural government said the project means that public entities will get involved in the participants’ private affairs and thus careful consideration is necessary.

    The Fukuoka prefectural government said that local governments alone have a limit on what can be done because difficult adjustments will be necessary in some cases, and it will be necessary to establish a system in which local governments will closely cooperate with lawyers, family courts and other experts.

    A ministry official said, “We’ll take the opinions into consideration so that more local governments will implement the project.”

    Waseda University Prof. Masayuki Tanamura, an expert on family law, said: “Maintaining interactions between parents and children after a divorce is important for the children’s growth. As there are many parents who say they can allow children to meet divorced spouses with third-party oversight, the project is significant.

    “Because this is the first attempt of its kind, the local governments seem to be reluctant due to fear of possible trouble. But it’s useful even just to coordinate meeting schedules or contact parents on behalf of the other spouses. It’s necessary to actively provide the services,” he said.


  • Debito its not a big linguistic misunderstanding at all because team GOJ and the propaganda media want to intentionally confuse the masses over here. Its called the Dumbing down of society over here so why are you giving them a free pass on this one?

    — Sorry, I was being ironic. Not a free pass. I’ve added “scare quotes”.

  • I applaud Debito-san’s connecting of “micro-aggression” to Japanese society: this is another case-in-point. NJ or Japanese, Japanese law has been one-sided and chauvinistic in its divorce and child custody policies. It is perhaps the only area wherein women are automatically given free rein to make possibly illogical and dishonest claims to keep their children. I think it is the total disregard for the other person’s opinion in this matter that makes the society draconian. I agree that people must be very careful to have children in a society that allows this, and the government’s passive aggressive stance on not signing the Hague makes it all the more frightening.

  • While I agree wholeheartedly with efforts to make Japan sign and meaningfully enforce the Hague Convention, I don’t think we should get too side tracked by the linguistic issue of Japan not using the word 拉致 (rachi) in a parental abduction context. I am sure most native English speakers living in Japan have at times felt that non-native speakers have no right to try and chance the meaning of English words. While this is a evidently a more serious issue than, for example, bad advertising copy, the principle is the same. Non-native speakers cannot hope to dictate the scope of a word definition in another language.

    Definitions of commonly used words are all about involuntary association. What do you picture, automatically, in your mind when you hear a certain word? We can’t force Japanese people to use “rachi” for parental abduction as the word does not link to that image in the head of the native Japanese speaker. “Rachi” has strong connotations of sudden abduction by a stranger with a victim in life-threatening danger. It is quite natural for historical, cultural and linguistic reasons that the same word in two different languages evoke different images in the minds of the speaker.

    This automatic process of association does not, of necessity, influence our attitudes to a given issue. To put it another way, no native Japanese speaker will think a child forcibly taken from one parent is a victim of “rachi” irrespective of their views on the seriousness of the issue. One could strongly support of BACH and still not use the word because it simply does not, and never has had, such connotations in the Japanese language. When a word does not historically carry a particular meaning, one cannot change that over night, particularly not as a non-native speaker. We don’t have the authority.

    Giving the obvious limitations of trying to force a change in usage, I see no reason to object to the neutral term 連れ去る (tsure-saru). It means to take away. If we want to emphasize the heinous nature of the act there are various ways to do this in standard Japanese by modifying tsuresaru with appropriate adjectives or descriptions. This frees us from the need to worry about forcing people to use the word “rachi” as an indication of how serious they consider the issue to be.

    I would recommend 勝手に連れ去る(Katte ni tsuresaru), meaning take away without permission. For example, one can convey virtually the same nuance as “abduct a child in violation of a court order” with 裁判所の命令に違反して、勝手に連れ去った。

    Like many people, I would however object to the insidious “tsure-kaeru” which has strong connotations of returning home to a place of warmth and safety. Making matter worse, the kanji for kaeru is the “ki” of “kikoku” (return to Japan), another phrase with strong emotional and nostalgic overtones. This relates though to my earlier point about the associations and baggage phrases carry. Commonly used words are subject to consensus among native speakers and the subject of automatic association. This association for native speakers cannot be overwritten by pressure from non-natives speakers. At the risk of repeating myself, these associations, built up over time, are why “tsure-saru” is neutral – with the potential to be condemnatory in an appropriately constructed sentence -, why “tsure-kaeru” is inappropriate as a description of the crime, and why “rachi” just isn’t going to cut it anytime soon.

    Given these differences in usage, I have no real objection to the articles cited above explaining the English usage of the word abduction. They are simply giving their readers background information. Many Japanese people without English ability will quite obviously be unaware that “abduction” has a wider scope of use than “rachi”. I don’t think this is quite the same thing as trying to nullify the issue or put it all down to a linguistic misunderstanding. If anything, explaining the English usage may prompt some people to reflect on why the English speaking world sees random stranger kidnapping and certain parental custody violations as, despite their obvious differences, similar enough to warrant the same term.

    — AJ, for one who doesn’t want to get side tracked on the linguistics, you’ve certainly devoted lots of words to it. This blog entry was not really about the linguistics anyway. More about the process of how the US is now linking two issues that the GOJ really doesn’t want to see linked in geopolitical space, and what the J media is doing (e.g., fiddling with linguistics this time) to try to rally the J public behind the GOJ as the home team.

  • Hey Debito,

    I was wondering when there would be a chance to provide a link to the AUstralian show Insight here – they recently did an episode on parental abduction fearing various ethnicities and stories, including an Australian father whose wife had left for Japan. Below is a link to the video of the episode, you can also find a transcript on the same page; extremely interesting stuff.

  • Debito,
    Thanks for the reply above (#11). Yes, that post was probably too long (I translate for a living so I type pretty fast!). Its just that I regularly see people online complaining about the Japanese failure to define this crime as “rachi” (including one of the posters above), so I just thought I would go through why I don’t think this matters. I see no contradiction in a careful explanation of why something is not important! Cheers, AJ

  • Anonymous says:

    When a gaijin parent forcibly takes his own child from a Japanese parent, Japanese people call it “誘拐”: the gaijin parent is arrested for “誘拐”, correct? The word that is used when the gaijin parent does it, is the same word that should be used when the Japanese parent does it.


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