Japan Times JBC 80 October 8, 2014: “Biased pamphlet bodes ill for left-behind parents”, on MOFA propagandizing re Hague Treaty on Child Abductions


eBooks, Books, and more from ARUDOU, Debito (click on icon):
Guidebookcover.jpgjapaneseonlyebookcovertextHandbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan「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)sourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumbFodorsJapan2014cover
UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS on iTunes, subscribe free
“LIKE” US on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/debitoorg
If you like what you read and discuss on Debito.org, please consider helping us stop hackers and defray maintenance costs with a little donation via my webhoster:
Donate towards my web hosting bill!
All donations go towards website costs only. Thanks for your support!


Hi Blog. Thanks to readers once again for putting this article into the #1 spot at the Japan Times Online for two days!  Debito

Pamphlet on Hague Treaty on Child Abductions displays slanted mindsets favoring the Japanese side of disputes
By Dr. ARUDOU, Debito, Column 80 for Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE, October 8, 2014
After years of pressure from foreign governments, and enormous efforts by “left-behind” parents to have access to children abducted to and from Japan after marital separation or divorce, the Japanese government became a party to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction in April.

That is, of course, good news. Now the issue becomes one of enforcement. And to that end, this column has serious doubts that the Japanese government will honor this treaty in good faith.

These doubts are based on precedent. After all, Japan famously ignores human-rights treaties. For example, nearly 20 years after ratifying the U.N. Convention on Racial Discrimination, and nearly 30 since acceding to the U.N. Convention on Discrimination against Women, Japan still has no law against racial discrimination, nor a statute guaranteeing workplace gender equality backed by enforceable criminal penalties.

We have also seen Japan caveat its way out of enforcing the Hague before signing. For example, as noted in previous JT articles (e.g., “Solving parental child abduction problem no piece of cake” by Colin P.A. Jones, March 1, 2011), the debate on custody has been muddied with ungrounded fears that returned children would, for example, face domestic violence (DV) from the foreign parent. DV in Japan is being redefined to include nontactile acts such as “yelling,” “angry looks” and “silent stares” (particularly from men).

It is within this context that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) recently issued a pamphlet titled “What is the Hague Convention?” Available in Japanese and English, it offers a 12-page manga in which a Japanese father carefully explains the Hague Convention to his Japanese-French son.

The pamphlet has sparked considerable controversy. After I blogged about it last month on Debito.org, many annoyed left-behind parents overseas said they would forward it to their national elected representatives. After a South China Morning Post article cited blog commenters calling it racist, Huffington Post Japan and Al Jazeera picked up the story, engendering predictable relativism about differing cultural interpretations.

For the record, I never wrote that the MOFA pamphlet was “racist.” That term, if not used carefully, tends to dull analysis, especially since the pamphlet is more subtle than that. In fact, it provides valuable insights into MOFA’s slanted mind-set towards the child abduction issue.

First, consider the visuals. In three cartoons (on the cover, and pages 4 and 10) we see a foreign-looking man (never a woman) being physically violent towards his child, with two of those showing the child longing to return to Japan and be with mother.

Violent Dads: First and 3rd illustration are used twice, so three.



Reinforcing that in five more places (cover, pages 1, 7, and 9 (twice) — see C and D) are illustrations where the child expresses dismay at being abducted from Japan; only once (page 4) is there dismay at being abducted overseas. On the other hand, pages 2 and 7 show children displaying no dismay at being abducted to Japan, or instead showing shock (pages 2 (twice) and 3 — see E) at not being allowed to return to Japan. The clear inference: Japan is, on balance, the natural place for the child, regardless of factors such as primary language or time spent living abroad.

Dismay at being abducted from Japan. Cover and pg 9 repeat illustration twice, so five.




(text context clarifies that the third illustration above is an abduction from Japan)

Dismay at being abducted overseas (one image only):


No dismay at being abducted to Japan:



Dismay at not being allowed to return to Japan:


This implicit fear of the outside world is reinforced by images of uneasy children facing unfamiliar rules, customs and languages (pages 1, 4 and 5 (twice)). More subtle is the picture on the cover and page 1, where foreign (adults) surround, frown and stare at the nervous Japanese child as though she really doesn’t belong. (She’s sent back to her Japanese mother’s loving arms by the next panel — phew.) Only once (page 3) is there a happy child sent back to his foreign dad.

Uneasy children facing the unfamiliar:





Being stared at by adults:


Sole image of happy child being returned to NJ father (plus katakana-speaking father not in English version, referred to below):


Then consider the manga storyline. The Japanese father protagonist experiences a child abduction when the French mother abducts their son to France. Fortunately, according to the pamphlet, because Japan signed the Hague, Japan’s authorities can have French authorities track down the child, get mediation and (as the conflict resolution of this story) return the son (and the mother) to live happily ever after in Japan (page 6).

That is the central and tacit argument of the MOFA pamphlet: Japan signing the Hague isn’t about returning children to their habitual residence (whether it be Japan or overseas); it is about giving Japan greater leverage overseas to bring its children home to Japan. Where they belong.

Moreover, for some mysterious reason we spend the first page developing the relationship between the Japanese father and son protagonists, with father comically put off-balance by a barrage of questions from son, then negotiating with him to finish his dinner before answering. By page 3, the pamphlet mysteriously succumbs to another case of the cutes, as an anime figurine appears to praise the son’s intelligence (revealing father as an anime fetishist).

Irrelevant curlicues:


Why these irrelevant curlicues? Because by page 6, we learn why the French mother abducted the son: She accuses father of spending all his time watching anime and not paying attention to them. This is of course made dubious after all the space spent portraying the father’s caring, explaining, hugging, even cooking for his son. So clearly she’s just being hysterical. Of course, she returns to Japan with them after negotiations, so nothing fatal to the relationship.

On the other hand, when it’s a Japanese woman abducting, her reasons are more serious than hubby’s anime fetish. She has to deal with domestic violence, poverty (cover), unsympathetic or unpredictable foreign courts (pages 2, 3, 4, and 5), and even the unlikely scenario of begging frowning foreign strangers on the street to help her missing child overseas (page 2). Conclusion: The Japanese side is generally being victimized, while the foreign side is subtly depicted as violent and overreacting.

Other images referred to above. Frowning foreign strangers on the street:


This is where MOFA is most disingenuous: In no fewer than four places (pages 1, 2 (twice) and 5) are unsympathetic courts, “cultural differences,” “legal procedures” and “language barriers” cited as hurdles for the Japanese spouse overseas.

Japan’s unsympathetic courts, legal procedures and cultural presumptions allowing child abductions to happen here on a regular basis — even between Japanese couples — are never mentioned. Japan, remember, has no joint custody or guaranteed child visitations.

In fact, taking the issue to a court overseas may afford both parents more rights — as it did in the Savoie case, where, despite the pamphlet’s claims, a Tennessee court gave Noriko Savoie permission to leave the U.S. for Japan (whereupon she abducted Christopher Savoie’s children). This is where the pamphlet morphs from guide to screed.

No doubt some MOFA representatives will be reading this critique, so let me point out two more inaccuracies unbecoming of a government agency attempting an impartial review of the issue.

First, almost all of the international marriages in the pamphlet are portrayed as between (katakana-speaking, in the Japanese version) white men and Japanese women. In fact, most international marriages in Japan are between Japanese men and Asian women. That is where the pamphlet is an easy target for accusations of racism. Not all “foreignness,” especially in this case, is so visually identifiable.

Then there’s the biased terminology. It is inaccurate in the English version to frame child abductions as “children’s removal” — after all, this is not the Hague Convention on Child Removals. Just as inaccurate as the term it was translated from, tsuresari (literally, “accompanying and disappearing”), meant to semantically soften the act of kidnapping — especially when another appropriate word, rachi, is used for abductions of Japanese by North Koreans.

On the plus side, there have already been good outcomes from Japan’s joining the Hague. Left-behind parents including Christopher Savoie and U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Toland (who have successfully pushed for the Goldman Act, as well as several U.S. congressional resolutions decrying Japan’s status as a haven for child abductions) have recently had their Hague applications accepted by the Japanese government, which has promised to locate and provide access to the Americans’ children in Japan. In effect, this is official acknowledgment that their children were in fact abducted from their lawful custody. Two abducted children have also been returned to their habitual residences in Japan.

NB:  There are at least 3 US resolutions mentioning Japan Child Abduction: House Resolutions 125 and 1326 and Senate Resolution 552.  Savoie Case, letter from MOFA dated September 8, 2014, accepting his case as a Hague Case, meaning the GOJ recognizes his legal custody:


Very good. But will all this eventually result in Japan actually returning a child to a parent overseas — something which, according to activists, has never happened as a result of Japanese government or court action?

Let’s wait and see, of course. But at this juncture, I doubt Japan will enforce the Hague with much verve. Doing so, as Colin P.A. Jones has pointed out on these pages, would in fact give more rights to those in international marriages than it would domestic couples! If the Japanese government’s past behavior towards inconvenient international treaties is any guide, it will find caveats to ensure international divorce does not become another way for Japan’s depopulation to accelerate.

Thus, MOFA’s pamphlet is little more than subtle propagandizing meant to reassure the Japanese public that they haven’t lost the power to abduct by signing the Hague. In fact, MOFA is portraying the Hague as a means to bring more Japanese children back home. With that mind-set as strong as ever, I anticipate that foreign parents will continue to get a raw deal from the Japanese system.


Debito Arudou recommends that officials at MOFA and everyone else understand this issue better by watching “From The Shadows,” a documentary available at www.fromtheshadowsmovie.com. Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause usually appears in print on the first Thursday of the month. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp


19 comments on “Japan Times JBC 80 October 8, 2014: “Biased pamphlet bodes ill for left-behind parents”, on MOFA propagandizing re Hague Treaty on Child Abductions

  • “Thank you for contacting me in regard to your concerns about Japanese government practices with respect to non-native parents of native Japanese children. I appreciate you taking the time to bring this to my attention.

    I have forwarded your concerns to officials at the Department of State, urging them to review the matter.”

    Email from Dan Coats, Indiana representative. Not sure if this is sincere, but his Wikipedia page says he was ambassador to Germany for a while, so he may very well be personally involved in such issues of international cooperation.

    But, hey, even if it was just an office grunt getting back to me with a fill-in-the-blanks email, maybe they really did forward it to the right people.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Chester #2

    Good job.
    There’s a paper trail of accountability now in the event of inaction leading to a situation where one of his voter loses their child because of ‘cold stares’.

  • I just want to quickly comment on the prevailing Japanese notion of domestic violence that Debito touched upon above.

    The idea that silence of angry stares or even agruing can constitute domestic violence is incredibly disrespectful to people who have had to suffer from real violence in the household. By reducing “domestic violence” to such trivial and non-violent actions that occur in every relationship you cheapen the suffering of people who have truly suffered.

    Now it has become hard to sympathize with someone who says they have been the victim of domestic violence in Japan. I think everyone must have, according to the prevailing definition.

    Stop being so disrespectful Japan!

  • Loverilakkuma says:

    As most of you probably know, the JT has just closed the discussion forum in only three days possibly due to the escalation of discourse containing emotionally sensitive language. It has 58 comments, a one third of last article.

    — It was not a matter of emotionally-sensitive language. It was because commenters were making provably untrue and libelous statements about the Savoie Case. Once again, topic derailed: Nobody talked about MOFA and the possible intent of a propagandistic pamphlet issued by an official body.

  • Baudrillard says:

    @TTJ, Postmodern Japan is one of the worst offenders of the misuse of terms and labels- just look at the plethora of English words twisted into Katakana.It makes daily life in Japan, especially dysfunctional urban centers like Tokyo, really grating and annoying. “Harassment” is another one, I ll never forget how my friend was given a name card from a woman who worked for MTV- he called her up ONCE and actually didnt get through, just left a message, and she told their mutual acquaintance he was “harassing” her. Actually it was possibly a boast, which I will discuss in a couple of paragraphs.

    Riiight. So in Japan if someone gives you a company card, it means DONT call them at work (even if its about work). I didn’t think of this much until the exact same thing happened to me, with someone working at Fujii TV. Met once, all was friendly. Called up once, about advertising, was accused of harassing. Now some definitions of “harassment” included the idea of “repeated” action, so telephoning once cannot be seriously considered. I conclude that we, the NJ, broke an unspoken rule of actually believing in direct communication (or any communication), and what we should have done was not dared to contact at all without months or years of corporate Settai, or sent an email without expecting an answer.

    Another example was an Americas teacher I know who guessed the email address of an HR person as he he had to cancel the lesson. This initiative was rewarded by the client company going apeshit about his having contacted HR directly.

    So the whole point of having a name card has changed or has been lost now. I remember in the 90s someone telling me that if they gave you a namecard, it meant they were prepared to be friends or do business with you. Arguably this was true but now another J tradition has been lost in the confusion of unspoken rules which everyone now interprets differently or twists for their own selfish agendas.

    “Stalker” was another one. Again,as I said above this was sometimes used as a boast, in the 90s in particular, the meaning was almost worn as a badge of honor by some. Ooh, I have a stalker, i must be desirable. Oh, lucky you, says the envious friend, flatteringly.

    Me: Can you pay your share of the phone bill please
    Irresponsible Katakana user: Stop “stalking” me.

    Or, try living in a large building. Sometimes residents entering the same time as you, the visible minority, will act all cagey, glancing over their shoulder.

    I have noticed something extremely weird in Tokyo which does not exist in many other cities outside Japan, even ones with higher crime rates. This is supposed to be “Safety Japan” and yet there is a high level of paranoia, especially around you, the NJ. We have all heard of the empty seats next to you on the subway, the clutched handbags as you approach, the timidy rabbit gestures, the “bikkuri shita” overreactions.

    Go to any Chinese city and none of this exists. The seat next to the NJ on the subway is always taken.

    This speaks volumes about xenophobia and the role of the media in drumming up non existent gaijin crime. Either that, or Japan is in fact crime-ridden and the “safety Japan” is just propaganda.

    I think this all ties in with the “shy sensitive” Japanese self pedaled stereotype- a wish fulfillment. Sure, I would agree many Japanese are sensitive, but in fact hyper sensitive to perceived slights against them. How ironic then, if and when these individuals are completely insensitive to very real slights against NJs in Japan. How very self centered.

    But what this “shy, sensitive” Japanese really means is 1. hikkikomori- dont bother me as I cannot be bothered 2.How dare you speak to me- non communication (an new, nihilistic form of the old J cliche, of isshin denshin or non verbal communication) and 3. the destruction of the traditional communication of the village by everyone moving to large urban centers.

    The “shyness” (lack of confidence, lack of interest, whatever) of the Japanese is in stark contrast to the behavior of, e.g. Chinese even in large cities where communication with strangers does often take place.

    So urban Japan is a much more confusing, unfriendly place with a lot of misleading signs, actions and people. Where even a misplaced “hello” can land you in trouble. Once again, why bother with this?

    Well, it all sounds like a bundle of laughs and such fun, I am sure 2000 elite expats would just love to relocate here, just for the social life (not).

  • Loverilakkuma says:


    RE #4: I mean, emotionally sensitive language by deliberately bringing the controversial case to make discussion really ugly. It’s absurd. One of the commenters talked garbage by accusing the US court system of the consequence for the choice then-spouse made at the time(and blaming it on to you, too). In my opinion, those disgruntled commenters need re-education.

    — Gotcha. Thanks for clarifying.

  • It’s worth noting that the “emotional” comments were very much the usual suspects. Eido only seems to come out to comment on Debito’s articles, same with Ken Y-N. Gordon Graham is a known troll of Japan Times, and a right racist bastard. (And, by racist, I mean that the guy is just steeped in white privilege, and he’s explained in explicit detail how he has managed to maintain that little bubble of whiteness in Japan over the past few months, in dozens of comments).

    Also worth noting, that Eido posted a massive rebuttal to Debito’s last article that – shock! – was factually accurate but had nothing whatsoever to do with Debito’s main point (that the cops shouldn’t have arrested a man for being foreign in public). Not surprisingly, Eido once again posts a really very nice, factually accurate (I guess) comment that he clearly put time into, citing his sources and everything.

    And…funnily enough, it is a complete non sequitur, doing nothing whatsoever to address the main point of the article.

    That’s his schtick, though. I commented on one of his YouTube videos, pointing out that he has inadvertantly used a racist epithet – and he responded with pedantic dictionary definitions of what race is, and explained to me how it was perfectly ok for him to use this particular racial epithet.

    So…yeah. The comments weren’t just emotional, they were purposefully and maliciously shut down by three known, notorious trolls.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ Chester #7

    ‘The comments weren’t just emotional, they were purposefully and maliciously shut down by three known, notorious trolls.’

    Yeah, I noticed that too. and where have we seen that type of behavior before? Oh, yes, I know, it’s the sort of thing the uyoku do in their black vans, or the nettoyu do to people they disagree with. Intimidation, bullying, derailment, these are all the tactics of the right-wing to silence those who disagree. I guess the apologists have learned that behavior well.

  • @ Loverilkuma, Dr. Debito #11

    It is good news, but before we get too excited, please note that the mother voluntarily returned the child, and this was NOT a case of a japanese court deciding to return the child in accordance with the Hague Convention. Sloppy journalism, misleading headline.

  • @11 Loveriakkuma

    Yes ,the return of the child under the Hague Convention is indeed good news but it must be tempered by the fact that it was a “voluntary ” return by the mother and , I assume after some lengthy negotiations at a government level to give the appearance that Japan is complying with the Hague Convention .

    The matter was not result of a Court order and until there is a Court outcome in favor of a non Japanese parent and Japanese family law (and the ridiculous Koseki system) changes to recognise shared parenting , I will be keeping my son on an airport watch list.

  • NHK – After mediation, “The mother agreed to temporarily return the boy to Germany.”


    If instead the mother replied “No”, WOULD the Japanese authorities have actually ENFORCED the Hague treaty by taking the treaty-mandated-next-step of FORCED-return?

    This “voluntary return” success story STILL doesn’t tell us if Japan is going to obey the treaty when a Japanese citizen REFUSES to do what the mediators advise.

    If a Japanese parent signs a court contract abroad, breaks that contract by absconding, then replies “No” to the Japanese counseling advice to return the child: and THEN the Japanese government actually FORCIBLY sends the child back to the victim parent abroad, THEN is when we can finally say “For the first time, Japan has ENFORCED the Hague Treaty.”

    Currently, all we have is a court-contract-breaking parent who due to a little talk decided to voluntarily agree to obey the law. I’m thankful the counseling session changed her mind. But this wasn’t a case of treaty enforcement.

    What will Japan do when a strong Japanese parent says, “NO, nice counseling session, but I don’t care what you say, I don’t care what that court-contract I signed abroad said, my child is staying here in Japan now and I’m NOT going to share custody with the foreign father.”

    Will Japan actually ENFORCE the Hague treaty? We’ll see if there ever arises an actual case of treaty enforcement.

  • I know this sound cynical, but I wonder how much the belief on the Japanese side in a “special relationship” with Germany played a role in that decision.
    In Germany, I had the misfortune to be told over and over again that the Japanese and the Germans have a special relationship “because of Hitler”. One cab driver even told me that he loved Hitler and that “Tanaka Kakuei” was the “closest to Hitler Japan ever got” and that today’s leaders are all weaklings.

    As a German in Japan, you get preferential treatment, which is nice until you find out what the motivations behind it are. Mostly, it’s because the Japanese equal being German with “deeming oneself racially superior” and that’s something many can relate to.

    As if the last seven decades never happened.

    — Joining you in the tangent, I remember how certain “Japanese Only” places (such as this one) would claim that they can’t let in any foreigners because some of their clients might have bad WWII memories. Then we’d remind them that Germany was an ally (one of our plaintiffs in the Otaru Onsens Case was even German) and their policy would exclude Germans too. That shuts down their argument pretty quickly. It’s as if Japan went it alone during WWII without any involvement from NJ. Sorry, back on topic…

  • @#15

    A German passport is certainly helpful in Japan, especially when it comes to immigration. When my divorce got thru, my visa was about to expire, too, and I would have had a hard time renewing it. Instead of sending me home, immigration officials were very helpful and told me exactly what I could and should do.
    However, when it came to custody and visitation, I got the same lousy treatment every J and NJ father gets in Japan.
    Back on topic – even this “voluntary return after negociations” is a first! However, it remains to be seen whether Japanese courts will enforce the Hague Treaty, if and when push comes to shove.

  • “would claim that they can’t let in any foreigners because some of their clients might have bad WWII memories”

    LOL. They actually said that? That one takes the prize! Ive heard some pretty childish excuses from Japanese when it comes to forienger acceptance, but that one, wow!

    So U.S. states that allow the legions of Japanese companies and products to dominate…should they say to the Japanese “we cant allow you here, some of our senior citizens might be damaged by your presence because of what you did in WW2?”

    How one sided and absurd


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>