Japan Times Colin Jones on anachronistic Koseki System, how lack of family laws affect J divorces


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Hi Blog.  In a breathtakingly excellent article that only the Japan Times can give us (where else are you going to find these avenues for academic research in journalistic format; not from the vanity sanitized English press of the Yomiuri, or the skeleton-staff of the IHT/Asahi offering scant domestic news), we have Colin P.A. Jones once again offering eye-opening historical research and commentary on how family law in Japan (or lack thereof) has been created so much on the fly that few accommodations are made for modern circumstances.  In fact, Colin claims below, many circumstances (such as birth registries in complicated circumstances, or joint custody after divorces) are so inconceivable to this anachronistic system that people’s lives are forced to conform to it for its convenience, not the other way around.  It’s so bad that even the Koreans wised up and abolished theirs recently.  So should Japan.  Read excerpt below.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo


The Japan Times Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2010


Judges fill the gaps in Japan’s family law

First in a two-part series (excerpt)


Last year was an important one for child custody issues in Japan, with growing international pressure on Japan to sign the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, and the dramatic arrest of Christopher Savoie in September for supposedly “kidnapping” his own kids in Fukuoka.

I was actually interviewed for a segment on MSNBC’s “Today Show” in connection with the Savoie case. Since the program quite rightly focused on an interview with Mr. Savoie, the footage used of me was quite brief: mostly a clip of me saying it was shocking how easily parental rights are terminated in Japan. But watching my (literally) 14 seconds of fame afterwards, I realized immediately that I had mis-spoken. What is shocking is not how easily parental rights are terminated, but how few parental rights there are to begin with.

While it is common to refer to divorce, custody and visitation as matters of “family law,” strictly speaking Japan does not have such a thing. The principal body of what is generally considered family law is contained in Part IV of the Japanese Civil Code, which is actually titled “Relatives.” In substance, it is concerned mainly with how family relationships are created, modified and terminated, and includes not just the rules by which marriages are formed and terminated, but also those governing the widespread practice of adoption (adult adoption remaining a common practice for households that wish to continue the family name, traditions or business but have no male children to do so).

The code also explains some of the duties of individuals within these relationships, but contains almost no provisions laying down rights, particularly after a relationship has been terminated. Thus, the code is silent on post-divorce child support, visitation and alimony (as distinct from division of marital property). Such relief as is awarded in these areas has effectively been manufactured by the courts according to their own unofficial rules and standards…

Rest of the article at:

3 comments on “Japan Times Colin Jones on anachronistic Koseki System, how lack of family laws affect J divorces

  • Its a good article and I’m glad to see Professor Colins bringing the fundamental rights issue into the debate. Good work!

  • Very interesting article. I am curious about this point, however:

    “While it is possible for a marrying couple to start a completely new registry, this can arouse suspicions that you are trying to hide something about your pedigree.”

    I wsa under the impression than a new registry was automatically started when someone got married? I don’t remember my husband ever being given a choice about the matter when we got married; they asked him if he wanted to keep his honseki in his city of birth or move it to where we actually live, but leaving his parents’ registry didn’t seem that it was an option. He’s the oldest (only) son, and he kept his honseki at his parents’ address, I feel sure that if there had been an option to simply stay on his parents’ koseki and add our children to it when they were born, he would have chosen that.

    Is this another form of discrimination (only people who marry internationally are required to do it), a mistake on the part of the author, or just my ignorance (or my husband’s?)?


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