Please help support this documentary if you can:

Below is a link to a condensed version of a Japanese court video that up to now has been available through the Japanese courts on a highly restricted basis.  This video openly talks about the importance of access to one’s child after separation.  It hopefully reflects a step in the right direction in Japanese court attitudes regarding a child’s access to both parents after a separation or divorce.

Obama to host Noda at White House on April 30


U.S. President Barack Obama will host Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda in Washington on April 30, for their first meeting since North Korea’s rocket launch, the White House said Tuesday.

Obama wants to address a “wide range of bilateral, regional and global issues, including the U.S.-Japan security alliance, economic and trade issues, and deepening bilateral cooperation,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

“The two leaders will also discuss regional and global security concerns,” Carney said in a statement—with North Korea’s rocket launch likely high on that agenda.

The April 30 meeting will be the second one-on-one talks between the two leaders, and the first at the White House. Noda took office in August 2011.

The last meeting took place in September last year on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, in which both were taking part.

North Korea claimed its rocket launch last week was to put a satellite into orbit as part of celebrations to mark the centennial of the birth of the country’s founder Kim Il-Sung, as his young grandson Kim Jong-Un takes the reins of power.

The United States and its allies, however, said it was a disguised long-range ballistic missile test banned under UN resolutions.

The test ended in failure, with the rocket disintegrating in mid-air soon after blast-off and plunging into the sea in a major embarrassment for the reclusive state.

And the U.N. Security Council responded by tightening sanctions on Pyongyang, warning of new action if the isolated state stages a nuclear test.

The United States and Japan are both party to long-stalled six-way negotiations on ending Pyongyang’s nuclear drive, along with China, Russia, and the two Koreas.

Carney said after the launch that Washington “remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations, and is fully committed to the security of our allies in the region.”

The United States also confirmed it would not go forward with an already suspended deal to send food aid to North Korea.

Japan and the United States have differed on Iran, upon which Washington has imposed crippling economic sanctions over its suspect nuclear program. But last month, the Pacific allies came to a compromise.

Noda has said Tokyo would strive to reduce its oil imports from the Islamic republic, while the United States last month said it was exempting Japan and some European Union members from tough new sanctions aimed at Tehran.

The United States has also pressed Japan on child abductions, urging it to sign the 1980 Hague treaty that requires countries to return children to the countries where they usually live.

Japanese courts virtually never award custody to foreign parents, especially men, and authorities have never returned overseas a child snatched to Japan.

U.S. parents have pursued more than 120 cases to seek access to their half-Japanese children.

Under growing foreign pressure, leaders in Tokyo have voiced support for signing the Hague convention, but it would only apply to future cases.

© 2012 AFP


DoS and Child Abduction

Monday, April 16th, 2012

To the attention of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, the Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell and all employees in the State Department’s Office of Children’s Issues:

This letter was received by Congressman Smith’s office during the week of the introduction of H.R.1940, the Sean and David Goldman International Child Abduction, Prevention and Return Act.

March 26, 2012


Dear Congressman Smith:

By now you are aware that Japan has agreed to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of Child Abduction (the Hague treaty).  By now you are also aware that while Japan has “agreed” that it will sign the treaty, it does not seem to have any intention to actually honor it.  This fact can be gleaned from Japanese press articles and Parliamentary sessions that extol the virtues of several “exceptions” the Japanese plan to implement upon their joining of the Hague.

The ambiguity of these loopholes reveals that Japan’s accession to the Hague will be, at best, a misrepresentation of the country’s true intentions and, at worst, an outright fraud.


U.S. Department of State disregards the welfare of abducted children

On May 24, 2011 while sitting as Chairman for the Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights Subcommittee, you remarked that parentally abducted children lose half of their identity and half of their culture and “are at risk of serious emotional and psychological problems [including] anxiety, nightmares, mood swings, sleep disturbances, aggressive behavior, resentment, guilt and [fear]” and that these struggles continue on into adulthood.

Despite the litany of childhood problems you detailed in your speech, I deeply fear that the U.S. Department of State (“State Department”) has failed to research, or even acknowledge, the harm that can befall a child who has been parentally abducted.

For years, several organizations, including the American Bar Association and the U.S. Department of Justice, have maintained that parents with narcissistic personality disorder and/or sociopathic personality traits are more likely to kidnap their children than those who are emotionally “healthy”.  While countless researchers have examined the long-lasting consequences of being raised in these circumstances, it appears that the State Department has chosen to ignore this research in its entirety.

In 2011, the State Department Office of Children’s Issues met with parents of children who have been abducted to Japan.  At this meeting there was a guest speaker—a child welfare “expert” hired by the State Department to convince a group of grieving and traumatized parents that they should not worry about their children so much because abducted children are “resilient”.  Aside from the fact that this “expert” seemed to completely ignore all of the research that led to the implementation of the International Parental Kidnapping Crime Act and the Hague treaty in the first place, the State Department’s flagrant disregard for the pain and emotional damage that these children suffer was unconscionable—to say nothing of the feelings of the parents who were seated in that room while having to listen to that discussion.  It is reminiscent of the radiation scandal where the poisoned victims were told that the version of chromium they were exposed to was actually “good for them”.  It is positively unthinkable.


Living with an emotionally unhealthy parent

Children who are raised with an emotionally unstable parent do not reach adulthood unscathed.  Indeed, children who have been parentally kidnapped are often raised in an emotionally abnormal environment without the benefit of a healthy parent to counter-balance the abductor’s erratic or destructive behavior.  Several researchers have examined the emotional fallout experienced by children who have been raised with parents who suffer from narcissistic or borderline personality disorder, and they have found that the impact of this damage is both deep and long-lasting.


Narcissistic personality disorder

Several publications have described that narcissism is a personality trait that increases the risk of parental abduction.  Narcissists often rationalize their violation of court orders and feel no remorse if they bend the rules to benefit themselves.1

A child of a narcissist can suffer severely because narcissists have “limited or no ability” to recognize their children as separate individuals with free will and needs of their own. Children who are raised by a narcissistic parent often feel extremely lonely and isolated because the parent can, to the outside world, appear to be self-confident and self-controlled, but in private can unleash a battery of constant criticisms and have difficulty controlling their anger.3  Eleanor Payson, a licensed family therapist, describes this nightmare as “a private one that can only be stopped by outside validation”.4  A child raised by a narcissistic parent must grow up quickly, repressing his or her true feelings in order to serve the narcissist’s needs.5


Borderline personality disorder

Bill Eddy is an attorney, mediator and clinical social worker.  He is an expert in child custody issues that arise when someone divorces a spouse with narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder.  He explains that parents with borderline personality disorder often “desire the elimination of the other parent as much as possible”.6  Researchers have found that a borderline parent will often use “I’ll never speak to you again” as a primary method of solving interpersonal conflict, and the child will thereafter feel forced to agree with his parent’s opinion, even if his opinion or recollection is not the same.7  These parents “enmesh” themselves with their children8 and rather than being allowed to feel, the borderline parent convinces the children how they are supposed to feel.9

In Eddy’s experience, parents who kidnap their children are unwilling to share parenting with the other parent and “decide they were above the law”. 10  The risk of abduction is exacerbated by a borderline’s impulsivity and the fact that they feel superior to a court’s orders.11

Borderline parents hold their children captive to onslaughts of verbal abuse followed by the silent treatment.  They criticize and belittle their children, causing the children to suffer great confusion, pain and silent anger.12  Life with a borderline parent can bring “constant chaos” and is typified by the borderline’s verbal abuse, unpredictability, denying the child’s perception of events, the need to dominate, threatening to get her own way, making abusive comments and setting unrealistic expectations.13  Denying the feelings and needs of others and trying to get the child to engage in illogical arguments only exacerbates the pain, loneliness and confusion.14  While it is impossible to discover exactly how many international abductions have been committed by narcissistic or borderline personality disordered individuals, this research cannot and should not be ignored.


The State Department is obstructing justice and minimizing a federal felony crime

Through their complicity, the State Department is unnecessarily prolonging the pain of these abducted children and their parents.  The State Department needs to acknowledge that crimes have been committed by these Japanese nationals and that the Japanese government has done nothing to rectify the situation.

The Justice Department has acknowledged that parental abduction is damaging and that “the worst damage is imperceptible to the eye, occurring deep within the child, leaving traces that last a lifetime”.15  The State Department should be admonished for using taxpayer money to pay a child welfare “expert” to cajole left-behind parents to think that parental abduction is not such a bad thing after all because kids are “resilient”, and to offer up such fiction in front of the F.B.I, the very agency that should be assisting these bereaved and aching parents in the recovery of their children.  The State Department needs to be severely questioned as to why it is devoting its efforts to obstructing justice rather than fighting for it.


Thank you for your time and attention.


Amy J. Savoie, Ph.D.



1  Payson, Eleanor D., M.S.W.  2002.  The Wizard of Oz and other Narcissists.

Royal   Oak, Michigan: Julian Day Publications, p. 19.

2  Payson, p. 30.

3  Payson, pp. 16, 30.

4  Payson, p. 16.

5  Payson, p. 66.

6  Eddy, Bill, LCSW, JD and Randi Kreger.  2011.  Splitting: Protecting Yourself   

   while Divorcing Someone with Borderline or Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  

  Oakland, California: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., p. 263.

7  Roth, Kimberlee and Freda B. Friedman, Ph.D., LCSW.  2003.  Surviving a 

   Borderline Parent: How to Heal Your Childhood Wounds & Build Trust,  

   Boundaries, and Self-Esteem.  Oakland, California: New Harbinger

Publications, p. 120.

8  Eddy, p. 249.

9  Roth, p. 121.

10 Eddy, p. 248.

11 Eddy, p. 249.

12 Lawson, Christine Ann.  2000.  Understanding the Borderline Mother: Helping  

    Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship. 

    New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., pg. 207.

13  Mason, Paul, MS and Randi Kreger.  2010.  Stop Walking on Eggshells, 2nd 

    Edition.   Oakland, California.  New Harbinger Publications, Inc., pg. 61.

14  Mason, p. 109.

15  The U.S. Department of Justice, from the publication The Crime of Family

Abduction, a Child’s and Parent’s Perspective, First Edition.  May 2010.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Fate of child abductions bill in Diet uncertain

Staff writer

The government finally submitted legislation to the Diet last month for joining the Hague Convention on international child abductions but its passage appears far from certain.

Western allies have long pressured Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, and are watching closely to see whether Tokyo lives up to an earlier promise to ratify it.

But the prospects of this happening in the near future already appear bleak because lawmakers are preoccupied with just one issue — Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s plan to hike the consumption tax.

Although Noda’s administration has decided to push for signing the Hague Convention, lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition camps have serious reservations and the bill’s passage is in doubt. According to the Lower House secretariat, a bill was submitted to the Diet in early March but has not even been referred to a committee for deliberation yet.

Lawmakers opposed to the treaty argue that joining it may result in children being forcibly returned to an abusive environment, since many Japanese mothers have cited domestic violence as a reason for fleeing their overseas domiciles and taking their children to Japan.

But abandoned spouses, who end up with little or no access to their children, have been urging Japan to take action.

At a seminar about the Hague Convention on Monday, Kazuyuki Hamada, a parliamentary secretary at the Foreign Ministry, admitted it’s possible the bill may not be approved by the end of the Diet’s current session.

Hamada, however, confirmed that the ministry is treating the issue as its top priority and will do everything in its power to ensure the bill’s passage.

“The political maneuvering is not easy because we are surrounded by so many (competing) political agendas,” Hamada said. “(Given) these agendas, we are not 100 percent certain we can ratify the Hague Convention by the end of this Diet session.

“But we are determined to push it forward because the issue is hugely relevant to the values of not only of our country, but also those of the international community,” he said.

Kirsten, an American mother who attended the seminar and asked that her last name be withheld, recounted how her former Japanese spouse abducted her 14-year-old son, in Japan. Although the case technically does not fall under the Hague Convention, many former partners in the nations, whether they are Japanese or foreigners, experience difficulty getting access to their children after they divorce of break up.

Kirsten said she was granted legal guardianship of her son after she separated from her husband, but the boy never returned from a visit to his father in 2007. Her former husband held their son for more than a year before the courts acknowledged he should be returned to his mother.

“I used to respect my dad and looked forward to seeing him on the weekends with my sister. But one time I went to my dad’s without my sister and was told that I would no longer be able to see my mother. I was really shocked,” said Kirsten’s son, who wished to remain anonymous.

The boy said he spent that year with his father looking forward to the postcards that his mother regularly sent him.

“I was very confused about the decisions my dad made. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be with my mother,” he said.

But after they were reunited, he said he was also able to gradually rebuild his relationship with his father.

Akiko Ohnogi, a psychologist who specializes in child and family counseling and has worked on many child abduction cases, stressed the importance of maintaining healthy relationships with both parents.

Such relations have “an impact on (the child’s) entire life — it’s not just something that happens during childhood and eventually goes away,” he said.

“The attachment to both parents determines how children view themselves, how they view interpersonal relationships and their general world view.”

Other panelists at the seminar included Colin P.A. Jones, a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto and an expert on international child abductions.

The seminar was jointly organized by child rights advocates John Gomez and David Hearn, who directed the movie “From the Shadows” on the theme of international and domestic parental abductions, and which is currently in postproduction. The event was supported by the Harvard Club of Japan.



Interview: Douglas Galbraith, author of My Son, My Son

Douglas Galbraith, author of My Son, My Son. Picture: Jane BarlowDouglas Galbraith, author of My Son, My Son. Picture: Jane Barlow

Published on Tuesday 3 April 2012 00:00


DOUGLAS Galbraith hasn’t seen his two young sons since they were abducted by their mother and taken to Japan in 2003. His new book serves as a letter to them, filling in those missing years


I TRAVEL to Edinburgh to meet Douglas Galbraith shortly after taking my two sons to school and nursery. It’s part of the morning routine, a mundane chore that one must get through before the day proper begins. Yet today, aware of the brutal severing suffered by the man I am about to interview, the school run takes on a new significance as something to be cherished. Galbraith once had two sons. It is not quite true to say he still does.

At some point during the first week of July 2003, while he was away from home on a short business trip, his boys – Satomi, six, and Makoto, four – were abducted by their mother Tomoko and taken to her native Japan. He has not seen them since. “It’s grief which is almost the equivalent of a police officer turning up at your door and saying, ‘I’m sorry, I have to tell you the worst thing imaginable – your children have been killed in a traffic accident and you’re never going to see them again.’” Galbraith explains. “It’s like that. They vanish from your life as completely as a literal death.”

Galbraith is a tall man of 46 with neat brown, side-parted hair, pale blue eyes and an air of cultured reserve. His tidy, unflashy, slightly fogeyish clothes might, if one did not know already, allow for a successful guess that he is a writer. Born in Glasgow, he now lives in Edinburgh. A few years ago he was in all the papers when it was announced he had secured a huge advance for his first novel, The Rising Sun. Now he is returning to the public eye with a book – My Son, My Son – which details not a financial gain but this tremendous personal loss.

It is a fascinating read – full of rage and sadness, though expressed in a very controlled way, all the rough emotional edges smoothed down by intellectual insight and elegant prose. Galbraith, a writer of literary fiction, regards the misery memoir genre with disdain and has a horror of his work appearing on the ‘painful lives’ shelves of bookshops. My Son, My Son is not, therefore, a simple wallow in his own unhappiness; what begins as a straightforward account of an extraordinary individual experience warps and torques into a polemical analysis of everything from international child-abduction law to filicide to the way society – both culturally and legally – seems to favour mothers over fathers.

Not that Galbraith skimps on moving personal material. On returning home to the house from which his wife had run away with their children, he finds his boys’ pyjamas lying on the floor “in vaguely child-shaped heaps”. He can smell them and fondly imagines he can still feel their warmth. It’s a small intimate detail to which any parent who has ever picked up clothes from a bedroom floor will relate.

“To some extent, the book is like a message in a bottle,” he says. “I am someone who has lost contact with his children. I can’t communicate with them at all. So this is one possible way of filling in what will for them be quite a wide blank in their lives. I don’t know what they have been told, whether they’ve been told one side of the story. I think people do best in adult life if they have a clear understanding of their childhood. So this book has two readerships – one readership is just two people, my children. I don’t know if they’ll ever read it. I think they’ll find their way to it eventually. If you know there’s a book out there somewhere which has got you in it, photographs of you in it, they will be curious.”

Just two people? Not his ex-wife as well? One of the most compelling aspects of his book is that he makes no secret of his hatred for Tomoko. “Yeah,” he says. “My guess is she will read it. She has perfect English, and how could you stay away from something like that? I’d be surprised if I heard from her to tell me what she thought about it, but if she did then at least that would be some conversation rather than none. So, yes, you’re right, it’s for that group of people but mostly the two children, I think.”

Sitting, waiting for Galbraith, I hadn’t been certain what sort of broken man was going to turn up. I had thought it might be a tearful interview, and had questioned the wisdom of meeting in public. Surely his home, with tissues and hot, sweet tea to hand, would be more appropriate?

But in fact the cool tone of the book is embodied by the writer himself. He isn’t cold, exactly, but he does have a stiff-upper-lippish air of detachment from his own circumstances that is – all at once – surprising, impressive and disconcerting.

I mention how calm he seems and he says he is glad to hear it as he likes to think of himself as “lucid and self-controlled”. It’s as though he wants to be an expert witness to his own life, and refuses to allow the authenticity of his testimony to be thrown into doubt by any flashes of anger and glimpses of sorrow. In the beginning, when the children were first taken, he was “emotionally completely floored”, he says. “But you can’t keep that up. You get exhausted. I think that’s part of the natural recovery process from any catastrophic blow.”

So we sit there in the café with coffee and scones, a serene still life, talking of the boys he loves and the woman he loathes so much that when watching news footage of the Chuetsu earthquake that struck Japan in 2004 he believed, for a few excited moments, that he had seen her corpse. “It was immensely traumatic,” he says of the abduction. “It’s one of the most difficult things that could happen to anyone. But I have survived.

“To some extent, it’s like serving a long prison sentence. I could have murdered someone and I’d have been in prison for less time than I’m going to be away from my children, and at least murderers get family visits. But with every year that goes by, I think we’re getting closer to some sort of possible contact again. So there is something to be hoped for. It is speculative. It might not happen. But I feel I need to be there for the boys. I feel that damage has been done to them, and I can’t help repair it other than by keeping myself together and being here and available if that day ever comes, and try to give these people a solid, stable adult life.”

Galbraith admits he himself has been damaged, and now and again during our conversation it is possible to get a sense of how this loss has got into his bones. He tells me, for instance, that one reason he has not had any further children is fear of another separation.

He is also presently engaged in writing a children’s book in which a wartime child is separated from its parents by evacuation. Given the pain he has experienced, does he ever regret having children at all? He shakes his head. “It’s impossible for me to regret their lives.”

That evening in July nine years ago when everything changed, Galbraith had returned from London and expected his wife and children to pick him up at Leuchars train station. But there was no one to meet him. He had known it might come to this. He had hidden the children’s passports as a precaution. His relationship with his wife, whom he had met when they were both students, had been bad for some time. She had, Galbraith says, grown to be unhappy living in Britain and wanted them all to spend much more time in Japan than the holiday trips they had been making. He felt these visits were risky, however, that his wife might refuse to return to Scotland, and might keep the children there; that the end of their marriage would be accelerated.

To argue over where the family should be raised is one thing, of course; to abscond with two small boys and leave no forwarding address is quite another. What was it that made Tomoko believe the children would be better off without their father? “You know, I’m not really sure that she did,” Galbraith replies. “I think she thought they would be better brought up in Japan.”

Home life, as Galbraith describes it, was a culture war; his eldest son’s first name is Finlay, but Tomoko insisted he be called Satomi; Japanese came to be the language spoken in the house between mother and children; English was talked over; the television was tuned to Japanese broadcasts.

Galbraith, keen to rationalise these behaviours, has come to believe his wife became drawn so intensely to her native culture as a reaction to losing her own mother at a very young age. “I married a cosmopolitan who had come to Cambridge to study English and I ended up with a Japanese cultural nationalist,” he says. “I think my main failing was that I wasn’t Japanese.”

Frustratingly, of course, Tomoko isn’t around to ask for her side of all this. Anyway, Galbraith was left with few mementoes of the father he had been. The lock of Makoto’s baby hair had been taken, as had the identification bracelets the boys had worn in hospital, and even the ultrasound picture of Satomi. He became, as he describes it wryly, a sort of Miss Havisham figure, surrounded by toys “and the smudged remains of the crayon drawing on the wall that had caused such a row”.

Working from home, he had been a hands-on dad – feeding, bathing, playing, making them laugh. “One of the things that increased the likelihood of this abduction,” he believes, “is that my sons had a very close relationship with me, and I seemed at times to be the more favoured parent. I think that was disturbing to Tomoko and probably brought the whole thing forward.”

One might think, based on simple faith in human nature and society’s mechanisms, that Galbraith would be able to find and re-establish contact with his children fairly easily. Not so. The Fife police, he says, were reluctant to get involved (“They’re with their mum,” he was told, “they’ll be all right”) and the Japanese Consulate in Edinburgh was mistrustful and unhelpful. Through his own efforts, pretending to be someone else and contacting Tomoko via her old university, he managed to get an address for his wife and children, in a suburb of Osaka. Still, though, he was unable to get them back, and was reduced, eventually, to phone calls.

The law in these matters is defined by the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction, which says that abducted children should be returned to their place of usual residence. Japan, however, has not signed the treaty, though there are signs that it is now considering doing so.

If it does, and if the treaty proves effective, which is doubtful, it will have come too late for Galbraith. He is no longer seeking to have his boys returned to Scotland. “My children have been living a Japanese childhood since they were four and six. I don’t think it would be in their interests for me to disrupt that.” He just wants contact. “There hasn’t been any for three years.”

That was when he last spoke to them on the phone, and already by then their ability to speak English (Galbraith speaks little Japanese) was fading. He sends Christmas and birthday presents to the address that he thinks is theirs; to do otherwise would feel like abandonment. But he doesn’t really know where they are. They will be almost 13 and 15 now, very different from the little boys with open faces and milk-tooth grins of memory and dreams. Galbraith admits he might pass them, unknowing, in the street.

What kind of relationship could he hope to have with them now? “It would be difficult. It would have to be taken patiently. A lot of explaining would have to be done. A lot of trust would have to be rebuilt over time. Reunions in these situations probably don’t go as well as some people hope, I would imagine. I may find that they have a world view that’s entirely that of their mother.

“I just don’t know. That’s the answer to most of the questions, unfortunately. But I’m not naive about that reconnection, if it ever happens. It would be difficult and there’s no guarantee that it would go well.”

He has considered employing a private detective in Osaka, but feels that all it could accomplish would be to verify the address. But what about going to Japan himself? Has he done so? “Not since the abduction, no. I’ve thought about that, of course. But I can’t see that I would get any further than this locked apartment door.”

There are risks, he says, associated with turning up in person. He knows of a man who was arrested when he tried to get his daughter back. Still, though. One of the saddest moments in the book is Galbraith’s account of scanning the neighbourhood with Google Street View, hoping for a glimpse of his sons.

He did that because of an instinct to see them and be near them – “Yeah,” he nods – so surely that same instinct would drive him to actually go to where he thinks they are? “It’s tempting,” he says, “but I just think it would end badly. The purpose of going would be to get contact. If that was possible, I would go. But it’s not on offer and you can’t force that. Also, it would mean approaching a 15-year-old on the street and saying, ‘I am your father’ without any preparation or consent. So there has to be some sort of agreement. I think eventually what will happen is, if they’re interested in finding out about their father, they will contact me, probably through the internet. This book, of course, increases the chances of that.”

His instinct, then, is that he will see them again? That this isn’t forever? “Within Japan, they look like half-Japanese children,” he replies. “Every time they look in the mirror they know their personal history started somewhere else. And even at four you’re going to have some vague memories of another country. They have a personal story and the only way it can be explained is by connecting them with their father. So I think there’s a good chance, and I hope it does happen because it would be an opportunity to repair things. But whether it will or not is impossible to say.”


• My Son, My Son, by Douglas Galbraith, is published by Harvill Secker on Thursday




Apr 1, 2012 | 5 Comments | 251 views

After decades of reluctance, Japan is set to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This international treaty, signed by more than 80 countries, is designed to prevent children from being taken from their home countries. While experts say joining the Hague Convention is a positive first step, critics argue that the real issue in Japan is not child abduction – but a lack of enforceable joint-custody laws to protect the rights of parents and children following divorce. This month, we examine the issues surrounding child custody and show why divorcing one’s spouse often means losing one’s children in Japan.

It was mid-October 2009,when Masako Akeo went to watch a choir concert at her son’s school. Akeo hadn’t seen little Kazuya in some time and was excited to hear him sing and possibly even have a word with him. After waiting patiently for the performance to end – and the applause to die down – Akeo approached her only child. 

“Kazuya!” she called out.

The little boy turned and there was a moment of recognition. But Akeo never got to follow up. To her surprise, the principal marched over and grabbed her arm. “Why did you come here?” he barked. “Why did you interrupt the concert?”

Akeo was pulled into a separate room and interrogated. She was ordered to leave the school and not talk to her son again.

“That choir concert was in the morning,” she says. “I waited outside the gate until six o’clock. But he did not come out.”

Akeo was treated like a criminal for wanting to see her son. But she was not a criminal. In fact, she was a victim of child abduction and parental alienation. And she remains so to this day.

In late summer 2006, Kazuya was spirited away from the family home by Akeo’s Japanese ex-husband. Akeo tried everything to get her son back including hiring private investigators and going to court more than 60 times. Nothing worked. Despite being a desperate mother, she has only seen the boy three times since his abduction.

“I met him two times in the Family Court,” she says. “One time was one hour – the other time was 45 minutes.

“The last mediation, my ex-husband made an agreement. I could meet my son every two months. But then final mediation, he gave the court my son’s letter. The letter said: ‘Oh, I have to study to enter high school. It is quite difficult for me now (to meet you).’

“Always, I had hope. But that day finished everything. I can’t do anything about my son.”

Takaji Takeuchi can sympathize with Akeo’s desperation. On a warm spring night in March of 2011, he tried to talk to his son who had also been taken away by his Japanese ex-spouse several years before. Japan had been hit by the horrible 3/11 tragedy and Takeuchi, like many others, was concerned about his family. He found his son at home with his ex-wife.


“They came out together,” Takeuchi says. “In front of my ex-wife, my son was standing. “I said ‘Are you okay?’ He said ‘Yeah, I’m okay. But why (did) you come here?’ I don’t have a father. I don’t need a father.” 

Both Takeuchi and Akeo’s children have been turned against them. It’s a common occurance for children separated from their mothers or fathers for lengthy periods of time. And it’s something that causes great pain on all sides.

“Every year, (at) New Year I say this year will be better,” Akeo says. “But you know, every year is getting worse. Still, I must keep going and keep doing something.”

Heartbreaking But Not Uncommon
These two cases are heartbreaking but not uncommon in Japan. In fact, there may be thousands of parents like them, who have lost contact with their children following a marital breakdown.

The reason is simple: there are no provisions for joint custody in Japan. In fact, under the country’s Meiji Era Civil Code, child custody is awarded to only one parent following a divorce, with the other parent is generally shut out. With no enforceable visitation rules, non-custodial parents generally lose access to their own children.

“Japanese Family Law is a misnomer in that there isn’t such a thing,” says Colin P. A. Jones, professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. “There is not a statute that is called Family Law.

“There have never been a lot of substantive rules clearly laid out somewhere in a statute, which say parents have to do this for their children… or after divorce this is what’s supposed to happen.”

Jones says the parent-child relationship in Japan is defined in terms of a marital relationship, so essentially, divorcing a spouse also means divorcing one’s children. In the rare cases where visitation is granted, Japanese courts usually limit non-custodial parental time to a few hours per month. The custodial parent retains the right to cancel visitation at any time without penalty. This policy differs greatly from Western countries where the rights of parents are maintained and enforced – even after divorce.

“For a number of historical reasons, Japan has never really developed the notion that there are Constitutional rights associated with the parent-child relationship,” says Jones. “That is why child abduction – as we would call it – within Japan has been a problem as long, if not longer, than the international abduction cases have been.”

After a divorce in Japan, a non-custodial parent can no longer decide on their child’s health, education, living arrangements and schooling – even what name the child will carry into the future. It is common for custodial parents to move away from the other parent without notifying them of their child’s whereabouts. 

Critics say it’s a system that promotes and legitimizes child abduction and alienation.

Best Interests of the Child? 
In denying or severely limiting visitation, Japanese courts often reason that children “need protection” from the “trauma of divorce.” For example, in 2003, a desperate mother looking to visit her son was told by an Osaka High Court that “the child is satisfied with his current established lifestyle” with his father and new step-mother. The court denied the mother’s visitation request stating that “exposing the child to different lifestyles and methods of discipline can have adverse effects on the feelings and emotional stability of the child.”

This opinion flies in the face of research by child psychologists, psychiatrists and child welfare experts worldwide who argue that, despite the conflicts inherent with divorce, children need contact with both parents to grow up as healthy, well-adjusted adults.

“Empirical and longitudinal studies show that maintaining contact with non-custodial parents is beneficial for children’s well-being,” says clinical psychologist Kazuyo Tanase, a professor at Kobe Shinwa Women’s University.

In an interview with NHK, Dr. Tanase said she believes the current visitation system in Japan does not serve children or parents well. “It should be changed. Parents with no custody should be able to spend substantial amounts of time with their children like weekends and long vacations with overnights, not just several hours a month. Secondly, couples shouldn’t be allowed to separate or get divorced without a parenting plan in place. Finally, couples should be able to choose between sole custody and joint custody.”


In recent months, diplomatic officials from the US, Canada and Europe have lobbied Japan to implement a joint custody system. Senior members of the Obama Administration including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have also pushed Japan to join the 1980 Hague Convention – an international agreement that protects children from abduction. Japan is the only G8 country yet to sign the accord. The Japanese government has pledged to join the Hague Convention this year and the Justice Ministry has already released legislative proposals due to be submitted to the Diet this spring. However, critics say the proposals include so many conditions that the law will be virtually unenforceable.

“It’s pretty depressing,” says Jones, after reviewing the proposals. “It seems pretty clear that Japan is going to implement the Hague based on a number of assumptions that conflict with the assumptions of the Hague Convention.

“The implementation regime (in Japan) is basically going to assume that the taking parent has a good reason – they’re going to protect the taking parent until the left-behind parent proves otherwise.
“I don’t see it really getting anywhere – really making any changes.”

Black Hole For Child Abduction
Japan is a signatory of Article 10.2, the United Nations Convention on the Human Rights of the Child, which reads: “A child whose parents reside in different states shall have the right to maintain on a regular basis, personal relations and direct contacts with both parents.”

Yet personal relations and direct contact with both parents often does not happen in Japan. And, with its lack of respect for international court rulings and a decades-long reluctance to join the Hague Convention, some critics call Japan a “black hole” for child abduction.

In fact, the US State Department warns that “Abductions to Japan represent one of the largest portfolios in the Office of Children’s Issues and are among the most difficult to resolve. To date, the Office of Children’s Issues does not have a record of any cases resolved through a favorable Japanese court order or through the assistance of the Japanese government.”

Two high profile cases recently highlighted the need for Japan to get serious about child abduction. Last December, Wisconsin doctor Moises Garcia saw his nine-year old daughter returned after a four-year fight. The child had been abducted to Japan by her mother, who ignored a US court order granting the father custody. The child was returned as part of a plea bargain agreement when the mother was arrested in Hawaii on child abduction charges. In 2009, the Japanese ex-wife of American Christopher Savoie also ignored a US court order and took the couple’s children away. Savoie traveled to Japan to try and get the children back but was himself arrested on abduction charges. The charges were later dropped but Savoie was forced to leave Japan without his children.

In both of these cases, Japan failed to recognize US court decisions and experts say this highlights not only problems with Japanese law but also the country’s disregard for international court rulings.

Left Behind Parents
An organization known as Left Behind Parents Japan (LBPJ) has been campaigning for Japan to join the Hague Convention and to implement an enforceable visitation system. The group – which brings together foreign and Japanese parents who have lost access to their children – has taken its fight to senior levels of the Japanese government, including meetings with a former Japanese Justice Minister.

“Meeting with (former Justice Minister) Eda Satsuki was extremely important because he’s been a lawyer for over 40 years,” says LBPJ spokesperson Bruce Gherbetti. “He was a Family Court Judge early in his career, so he understands the issues at play.

“And I believe that he inherently believes that the solution is for Japan to sign the Hague Convention.

“Ultimately, Article 818-819 needs to be changed. That’s the (article of the) Civil Code that speaks to sole parental authority.

“Kyodo shinken is the answer,” says Gherbetti. “Kyodo shinken or joint custody.”

Not Only A “Foreign” Matter
From the attention given to high profile international abduction cases, one might assume the child abduction issue is a “foreign” matter in Japan. However, it is not. Japan’s divorce rate is now more than double what it was in the early 1970s and statistics show that nearly half of all marriages end in divorce (nearly 40 percent in 2010) – which means there could be thousands of permanently separated Japanese parents and children. At least 20 percent of the cases also involve left-behind mothers.

“If you’re a public school teacher, you’re looking at a class where one-third of the children probably have experienced a parental divorce,” says Jones. “Just nobody talks about it and the law really has not addressed what should happen to children after divorce. What is in their best interests after divorce.”

Despite all of the publicity surrounding the issue, it does not appear that help is coming soon from the Japanese government. In an interview with the Japan Times on February 1, 2012, Japan’s new Justice Minister Toshio Ogawa had this to say about modernizing the Civil Code: “If we allow dual parental rights, it will be difficult to decide which parent the children live with and to make other decisions. I believe a major complaint that people seeking dual parental rights have is that they don’t get to see their children enough. That can be largely solved by ensuring visitation rights.”

“The problem is that visitation rights are not enforceable under the current system,” says Gherbetti. “You could talk about visitation rights all you want, but if one parent still has veto rights over the other, then visitation provisions are essentially meaningless.

“To continue to disallow dual parental rights is a human rights violation, plain and simple,” says Gherbetti.

LBPJ member Dennis Gunn adds, “If one side has tyrannical power over the relationship with your child, then sooner or later – and usually sooner – that is going to be abused.

“They have devised a system here that is guaranteed to cause the parents… and the children to suffer.”



Suffering is what Masako Akeo continues to do. Although she devotes much of her time and attention to helping other left-behind parents, she endures on-going nightmares about her son’s whereabouts. She doesn’t know where he is, what he is doing or whether or not he is safe. His childhood was cruelly stripped from her by a vindictive ex-husband and a system that supports child abduction. 

“I’m kind of an activist,” she says. “Maybe so my son can see TV or magazine or newspaper.

Okay, Mommy’s doing this for me. That’s why I’m doing this – for my son.”