Left Behind by Japan

June 25, 2012




WRITTEN BY // Clive V France

Left Behind by Japan - Clive V. France

Japan has an abysmal record when it comes to child custody, both from a domestic and an international perspective.

Japan is the only G8 member not to have signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a multilateral treaty “that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted from one member nation to another.”

At home, Japan’s system of sole custody following divorce strips one parent, typically the father, of all rights with respect to his or her children. By showing the human face of this creeping tragedy, this project highlights the need for a realistic and satisfactory solution.

Japan is the only G8 member not to have signed the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, a multilateral treaty “that provides an expeditious method to return a child internationally abducted from one member nation to another.”

Japan’s failure to do so has placed it at the centre of a row over custody of children from failed international marriages and highlighted the issue of parental abduction. Japan has been described as a “black hole” for children abducted from overseas by their Japanese parents.

Now, it seems, Tokyo is prepared to ratify the treaty, a step that would bring it in line with much of Europe, North and South America, and Oceania. Although legislation must be approved by the Japanese Diet, a bastion of opposition to perceived international pressure, the government is moving slowly forward on the issue.

However, ratification of the Hague Abduction Convention is in many ways a smokescreen. While Japan is seen to compromise on the international stage, at home its law on child custody remains rigid, anachronistic and, some would say, cruel.

Under Japan’s sole custody system, only one parent maintains shinken (parental rights) following divorce, while the other is stripped of any and all rights with respect to his or her children. This has created a post-breakup environment in which one parent, typically the father, is often denied all access to his or her children. Indeed, to facilitate a clean break, the left behind parent is expected to forgo entirely his or her relationship with the children from the failed marriage.


The impact of this can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Many Japanese fathers simply give up trying to gain access to their children. Others, such as Masahiro Yoshida, take the law into their own hands, often with dire results. In February 2012, Yoshida was arrested for “abducting” his 7-year-old daughter from her elementary school. He is currently awaiting trial and is likely to be given a prison sentence.

In a society notorious for its high suicide rate, it is not surprising that some parents choose to take their own lives rather than bear the pain of separation. This was the case of Akio Yokota, who killed himself in September 2011, four months after being photographed for this project.

More importantly for some, the Hague Abduction Convention is not retroactive. If and when ratified by the Japanese government, it will not address existing cases, such as those of Australian Matt Wyman, whose wife took their two sons “on holiday” to Japan and never returned, and Irishman David Morgan, whose wife moved back to Tokyo with their two children and now denies him all access to them.

Arguably, few married couples in Japan are aware of the child custody issues they face should their marriages fail. Most of the subjects photographed for this project expressed disbelief, frustration and powerlessness with a system that makes little effort to investigate and judge cases on an individual basis. As Japanese society globalizes, variations of the traditional family structure, and even radical shifts away from it, are bound to increase. With these changes come complexities that the country’s simplistic child custody law cannot address with confidence.

As we have seen in other areas, such as nuclear power generation, public awareness and understanding of the issues are paramount. By showing the human face of this creeping tragedy, I hope this project will help highlight the need for a realistic and satisfactory solution.


Clive V France

Clive V France

Clive France was born in London in 1965 but has spent more than half his life in Asia. He currently lives in Tokyo. An exhibition of his “Left Behind by Japan” project was recently held at the Foreign Correspondents Club, Japan and has gained substantial media interest. Clive helped organize relief supplies to Japan’s Tohoku region soon after the disaster in March 2011 and photographed what he saw on his numerous visits there.

Based on his positions on other issues and his unwillingness to take a stand on dual parental rights in divorce cases, it does not seem that Justice Minister Makoto Taki will be a very proactive force in addressing international abduction and children’s rights issues in Japan.




Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Death penalty on books, should stay: justice chief


Staff writer

Newly appointed Justice Minister Makoto Taki said in a recent interview that he supports the death sentence because it’s on the books for heinous crimes.


News photo
Makoto Taki


“I lean toward maintaining the death sentence because it already exists in the judicial system,” Taki, who assumed his post June 4, told The Japan Times and other journalists in his office last Thursday.

“The fact that the judicial branch hands down death sentences should not be taken lightly,” he said. “We should be cautious, as we should scrutinize individual cases.”

He also said he does not plan to repeat what predecessor Keiko Chiba did in 2010 and give the media a glimpse of the gallows.

“Because the media got to see the death chamber under Chiba, I don’t plan to do” likewise anytime soon, he said without elaborating.

He also said he will continue to study whether hanging is the appropriate method for executions.

On whether to add life in prison without parole as a punishment for serious crimes, he said the Democratic Party of Japan “has not really launched discussions because the issue of whether to keep or abolish the death sentence is the priority.”

Life imprisonment without the possibility of parole is not a current option. Life sentences can lead to parole if an inmate demonstrates good behavior.

Legal experts and activists argue that the gap between life with the possibility of parole and the death sentence is too wide.

Japan is one of 58 countries, including the U.S., China, India and Iran, where executions take place; 104 nations, including all of the European countries, Canada and Australia, either have abolished capital punishment or have kept the death sentence on the books but have not conducted executions for years, according to Amnesty International.

On whether to allow dual parental rights in divorces, Taki said he will handle the issue carefully and avoided clarifying his position.

Domestic law allows only one parent to have custody, and thus those who lose the right in custody battles find it extremely difficult to see their kids after a divorce.

“Opinions are split on the issues of medical treatment and schooling of children, so I want to handle it carefully,” he said, referring to situations in which children may be required to change schools and sources of medical care if they go back and forth between parents.

The issue of single or dual parental rights is a hot-button issue because Japan is preparing to sign the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspect of International Child Abduction, which will basically make Japan promise the other participating countries that it will do its utmost to enable non-Japanese parents to see their half-Japanese children.

In 2004, Taki blamed foreign residents illegally staying in Japan for a rapid rise in crimes.

“The number of crimes have increased rapidly and more than doubled from 1973, when it was the lowest since World War II. Above all, crimes committed by foreign residents illegally staying in Japan are extraordinary in their frequency and brutality,” Taki said on his website in 2004.

Asked about this statement, Taki said in the interview that such crimes have dropped to a third of the number in 2004 and thus he is no longer as concerned.

“Back then, the number of crimes had gone up suddenly, not just by foreigners but also by Japanese,” he said.



Hague Convention Ratification and Post-Divorce Parent-Child Law

Takao Tanase
Professor, Chuo Law School, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Sociology of Law

Read in Japanese

At present, ratification of the Hague Convention has been approved by the Cabinet and Japanese laws are being revised in order to implement this ratification. However, if we look at the domestic laws submitted by the government in order to execute the Convention, changes have been made with current Japanese public opinion and family court practices in mind, and it is questionable whether the intent of the Hague Convention has been incorporated.

1. The Framework of the Hague Convention

(1) Principle of return

The Hague Convention was entered into by the signatory countries in order to provide international protection to children from the damaging effects of child abduction. It aims to prevent abduction or, if abduction has occurred, to quickly return the child to its original home to eliminate any harmful consequences. This is the principle of summary return that forms the basic framework of the Convention. Here summary includes two meanings, quick, in the sense of instant action, and brief, in the sense of dispensing with time-consuming procedures and taking decisions quickly.

The need for speed is connected not only to the damage suffered by children in being abducted and remaining apart from the other parent but also to the powerlessness of children and their total dependence on adults, which is a feature of custodial cases.

Children are powerless and consequently tend to adapt to the environment of their abduction and show loyalty to the abducting parent who is now taking care of them. This is why there are endless attempts to gain sole custody by abducting a child and severing its relationship with the other parent, and is sometimes called abduction victory. Preventing this by returning the child quickly and irrespective of the loyalty shown by the child is the main point of the Hague Convention.

(2) Principle of requirement

To achieve this speedy return, the Hague Convention takes the stance of ordering the automatic return of a child if it can just be indisputably confirmed that the child was taken overseas without the consent of the other parent who has legal custody (including joint custody during marriage), or in other words, that the child was illegally abducted.

Even if the abducting parent pleads that the child wants to live with him or her and does not wish to return to the original home, this is not taken into consideration at all when weighing the pros and cons of the child’s return. Similarly, no attention is paid to pleas from a parent that one thing and another happened during the marriage, that the child would be happier living with him or her, or that the other parent cannot take proper care of the child. Allowing such pleas to be interfered in disputes over actual custody would inevitably make trials more drawn out and prevent a speedy return.

This is the other meaning of summary as in prompt decision-making.

(3) Serious risk

There are some cases in which children are mistreated and returning them would clearly put them at risk. This is given in the Convention as an exceptional reason for refusing to return a child, although there is also a risk of compromising the principle of return if the wrong action is taken.

Accusations of physical or mental abuse of children and physical or verbal spousal abuse are made between spouses most of the time in failing marriages as they contest decisions on culpability for the divorce, custody, and visitation and contact rights.

Parents therefore have to try not to be tripped up otherwise the trial can drag on, during which time the child comes to depend increasingly on the abducting parent who is taking care of him/her instead of the other parent who cannot meet the child, otherwise, not only returning of the child will be prevented, but the relationship with the parent can become severed. Because of this danger, the Convention seeks to limit exceptional cases of denying return due to a serious risk of physical or psychological damage to a child.

2 Implications for Japanese Law

(1) Toleration of abduction by Japanese law

The Hague Convention is against international child abduction and is not directly connected to abduction within Japan. So even if the Convention is ratified now, it does not necessarily mean that domestic law will change right away. However, the harmful consequences of abduction are the same even if it occurs within Japan. In fact the overwhelming majority of divorces in this country still follow a pattern of separation, in which either parent takes the child without warning in order to live together in the grandparents’ home, followed by a request for divorce.

In Japanese court practices, moving away with a child in a process leading to divorce is quietly condoned and not called abduction. In the words of judicial precedents, they left home with their children with the intention of keeping custody, and it is inevitably as they were unable to leave home without their children.

However, this way of thinking in judicial precedents is very far from the global consensus.

(2) Harmful effects of abduction

Children experience extreme trauma if they are suddenly removed for no apparent reason from a parent who dotes on them. The loss of a fundamental sense of trust can even scar them for the rest of their lives.

Abduction naturally provokes anger in abandoned parents, and fear of this anger and trepidation about returning children makes abducting parents even less likely to keep in contact and reveal their whereabouts. Of course many of them refuse visitation and cut themselves off from the other parent.

Later, even if mediation or a trial is held, the two parents cannot meet face to face to calmly discuss the post-divorce custody of their child as long as there is a background of this negative chain resulting from the abduction. All you can do through the mediation commissioner or judge acting as intermediary is work out an agreement on visitation and contact rather than discussing the current situation of the abduction, that is to say, rather than seeking agreement on parental rights and divorce.

However, if the person who has the abducted child close by keeps insisting on his or her demands, the future parent-child relationships will be significantly distorted.

(3) Equal joint custody

The post-divorce parent-child law that the world sees ideal would be one that allowed children to maintain continuous and direct contact with both parents. Parents split up, but children who are loved and raised by both parents will no longer lose one of them in the event of a divorce.

The Hague Convention stipulates that jurisdiction shall be in the child’s habitual residence and that the child shall be returned to that original country of residence even if the abducting parent starts a lawsuit in his or her own country. This is because the key to achieving equal post-divorce joint custody is for the parents to talk on an equal footing before separation and work out a post-divorce arrangement.

Of course the ideas and framework of the Hague Convention should also apply to divorces in Japan, and ratification of the Hague Convention along with domestic legislative reforms should be conducted quickly.


Takao Tanase

Professor, Chuo Law School, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Sociology of Law
Graduated from the Faculty of Law, University of Tokyo in 1967. He was an assistant professor and then professor at Kyoto University before taking up his current position of professor at Chuo Law School, Chuo University. He is a lawyer belonging to the Tokyo Bar Association. He passed the National Bar Examination while he was an undergraduate student. After graduation he worked as a research associate and assistant professor on the Civil Code. Since then he has specialized in the sociology of law and conducted institutional research into legal proceedings, the justice system, lawyers, and alternative dispute resolution, legal theory research covering legal awareness, comparative legal culture, and modern jurisprudence, and interdisciplinary analysis of legal interpretation theory aimed at the Constitution, tort law, contracts, family law, and so on.
He has also taught at several American law schools including Harvard University. Besides research and education, he is currently utilizing his accumulated research in the conducting of defense activities.

A little known fact about Yoko Ono is mentioned in this biography:



After the collapse of her relationship with Ichiyanagi she married the American producer and art promoter Anthony Cox, and they had a daughter, Kyoko.

. . .

In 1966 Ono held a show at the Indica Gallery, London. John Dunbarwas the gallery’s director. “I introduced John and Yoko,” he recalls. “I was a friend of John and Paul, and suggested they come in; I thought John would enjoy it. Yoko had never heard of John. I had to explain that he was a rich person who might buy something … It wasn’t immediately clear that anything was going to happen. She is a strong woman. John had never met anyone like her.”

After two years they got together. But the corollary was that Cox, after a custody battle for Kyoko that Ono won, effectively kidnapped the child, and Ono did not see her at all between the ages of eight and 31.



INTERNATIONAL MARRIAGE: Changing Japan as a safe haven for parental abductions

June 08, 2012


In February, 61-year-old Masahiro Yoshida was arrested for “abducting” his 7-year-old daughter from her elementary school in Ehime Prefecture the month before.

It marked the second time that Yoshida, a former professional jazz drummer, was driven to desperation and snatched his daughter, since his ex-wife has parental custody over his daughter, and he is not allowed to have any contact with her.

In Japan, courts do not recognize shared custody, and mothers retain custody in about 90 percent of court-mediated divorces involving minors.

In response to mounting criticism that Japan is a safe haven for parental abductions, the government finally submitted a bill to ratify the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which provides for the return of unlawfully abducted children.

The legislation is unlikely to pass in the current Diet session, as deliberations of controversial bills to hike the consumption tax are taking center stage. But if enacted, the convention, which has 87 signatory countries, will mandate that Japan return children whom its nationals took from other countries in a divorce, unless it harms the child’s welfare.

The public’s perception in Japan is that such post-divorce disputes are taking place only between Japanese mothers and fathers from Western countries. But many Japanese parents now claim that the justice system here is equally tormenting those who lost custody over their children following a divorce.

The case involving Yoshida has much in common with the well-publicized arrest of an American man in 2009 after attempting to abduct his son and daughter and flee to the U.S. Consulate in Fukuoka.

According to Yoshida’s mother, Michiko, an 87-year-old former liquor store operator in Yokohama, it was her daughter-in-law who “abducted” her grandchild five years ago in an attempt to gain parental custody.

Michiko’s son is currently on trial at the Matsuyama District Court.

As Masahiro is likely to be given a prison sentence this time, Michiko said there must be fundamental flaws in the country’s justice system, which made her son a “criminal for just wanting to see his daughter.”




In a nearly identical case, former family court judge Masanori Watanabe, 53, was arrested for abducting his daughter, then an elementary school third-grader, from a train station in Fukuoka in October 2005.

Watanabe, then a Yokohama-based lawyer, was subsequently given a suspended three-year prison sentence, dismissed from the bar association and cannot practice law.

“I certainly knew the consequences, but I thought it was my last opportunity to persuade her to come back to me when she becomes old enough to make her own judgments,” Watanabe said.

While waging court battles to gain custody of or visitation rights to their children, Yoshida and Watanabe campaigned for the Hague Convention, which they thought would help their causes.

“The convention means Japan’s last chance to review its cruel tradition to completely dismiss one parent’s right over children after divorce,” Watanabe said. “It is also my last resort to clear my name as a kidnapper.”

While the convention does not directly affect Japan-based families, Japanese and foreign parents here who lost custody pin hopes on their hopeful “gaiatsu,” or foreign pressure, scenario.

Lawyer Mikiko Otani, a member of the Legislative Council of the Ministry of Justice on the Hague Convention, said ratification will bring positive changes to the family courts here, which will examine and rule whether to return a child in accordance with the convention.

The family courts will need to examine and rule on what types of child-taking are unlawful and what serves as the best interest of children in ways that are convincing to foreign authorities.

If the expatriation of children becomes a common practice, courts need to break free from traditional reluctance in using force in family conflict cases. It will discourage parents from simply taking away their children, even by force, as is widely occurring today, she added.

“Ultimately, Japan will need to approve a form of shared custody, which is the norm in most of the countries that are signatory to the convention,” Otani said.

But gaiatsu inevitably draws a backlash. To the relief of Japanese parents who flee with their children from overseas, the proposed domestic legislation to set court procedures for a child’s repatriation sets strict criteria for judges to do so.

The vaguest and most potentially controversial clause among the six requirements is that courts need to ensure there will be no possibility that the concerned child suffers “physical or psychological” abuse once returned.

“Can courts expatriate its nationals, minors, over public opinion? I don’t think that can happen,” said a Japanese mother who fought a lengthy, exhausting court battle in Australia with her ex-husband over custody of their two children.




Interestingly, parties opposing the convention, and moves that can lead to the idea of shared custody, include both those from conservative and liberal camps.

Conservatives say that the single custody system is vital to maintaining the integrity of “koseki,” or Japan’s family registry system.

Kensuke Onuki, a lawyer who has represented Japanese mothers who have brought their children to Japan, agrees that one of the divorced parents must back away, in order to make a child’s new environment more stable.

“I don’t think many Japanese can stand the Western way of communication between children and their divorced parents, in which both parents participate in their children’s growing-up process,” Onuki said.

A head of a parents’ group seeking visitation rights said that even many of its group members, mostly fathers, will find it too burdening to fulfill shared custody, given the limited roles they played in child-rearing before their divorce.

Recalling his days on a family court bench in the mid-1990s, ex-judge Watanabe expressed regret that he and his colleagues had no doubts that it serves the interests of children to grant custody to their mothers.

He added that judges believe that courts must respect women’s parental rights, because it was historically denied to them and they had to gain them through postwar feminism.

“I also remember my boss telling me that the court should give men a ‘free hand’ to start a new life by eliminating responsibility to raise their children, and I really did not find much wrong with it,” Watanabe said.

“Now I know how painful, how cruel it is for a parent, regardless of the mother or father, to have their access denied.”

Watanabe added that he knows that the signing of the Hague Convention may be just the beginning of change for Japanese society.

“But I won’t give up, because this is the only way left for me to show my love for my daughter,” he said.



For immediate reference, here is the text from this blog:

For over a decade the Department of State has largely ignored the issue of international parental kidnapping.

From State Department attorney Tom Johnson, also the parent of an internationally kidnapped child, “The (State) Department’s bad faith is especially evident with regard to this point, since Congress itself estimated there to be 10,000 abducted American children abroad when it passed the 1993 International Parental Kidnapping Crimes Act. Congress knows that even the State Department admits to 500 to 1000 new cases annually, and Congress knows that the National Center’s estimate is up to 17,000 per year. These numbers include both Hague and non-Hague cases, but nevertheless indicate the extent of the Department’s attempt to mislead Congress with a report of only 58 unresolved cases.”

SOURCE: Johnson, Thomas A. 2000. The Hague Child Abduction Convention: Diminishing returns and little to celebrate for Americans. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics 33 (1): 125-178.  http://goo.gl/mz3t8

The Department of State suffers from a severe conflict of interest – they view their primary role as maintaining relations with foreign countries, often referring to foreign governments as their “Clients”.  By its very nature, the child kidnapping issue is “disruptive” to the relations between the U.S. and countries which support abduction.

Through a series of sleights of hand, the State Department actively attempts to downplay, minimize and cover up the number of abductions and the true severity of their failure to address the issue.

As an example, for over a year the Department of State has neglected to update the number of children kidnapped to Japan.  http://goo.gl/Gxu48   Not to mention that the official count provided by the Department of State is constantly called into question [ http://goo.gl/q234a AND http://goo.gl/YQ4uP ], and that the State Department continues to publicly manipulate the numbers [ http://goo.gl/fMxcI ].

Also, the Department of State continues to treat the issue of kidnapped children as a “custody” issue, despite the fact that it is both a crime [ custodial inference and/or kidnapping at the state-level  AND a violation of the IPKA at the federal-level ]  and a human-rights abuse [ per Congress, per the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child http://goo.gl/wbGKf, and even per then First Lady, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton  http://goo.gl/a0TRg ]

The State Department completely refuses to call out major offense countries, such as Japan, for violating the human rights of US children, attacking U.S. sovereignty, and abdicating their responsibility  to the International community.

The State department is also stopping approval for *any* attempts to extradite parental kidnappers from certain “allied” countries – Japan being the most prominent example.  This is a direct violation of federal code:



“For purposes of any extradition treaty to which the United States is a party, Congress authorizes the interpretation of the terms ‘kidnaping’ and ‘kidnapping’ to include parental kidnapping.”

Using the example of Japan, the Department of State repeats Japan’s claim that parental abduction is “not a crime”.  However, Japan has arrested numerous parents for attempted child abduction – most famously Christopher Savoie in 2009.  This is something that is admitted on the State Department’s own website:  http://goo.gl/JJkYa

Since the State Department acknowledges that Japan has arrested parents for “kidnapping”, how can they continue to repeat the farcical claim that such an act is not illegal in Japan?!

In addition, Japan ratified the UN CRC in 1994.  This UN human rights treaty states in article 11 that international kidnapping (specifically including Parental Kidnapping) is a crime.  Further, Japan’s constitution clearly states in article 98 that “the treaties concluded by Japan and established laws of nations shall be faithfully observed” [ http://goo.gl/OeauR ].  So the State Department is choosing the path of least conflict by refusing to call Japan out; and doing so at the expense of U.S. parents and U.S. children.

Finally, as stated above, congress has already addressed this issue of disparity in the EXTRADITION TREATIES INTERPRETATION ACT of 1998: http://goo.gl/vHNlY

So why is the Department of State violating federal law and continuing to block any attempts at extradition from the country of Japan? Why is the Department of State refusing to publicly condemn these human rights abuses against U.S. citizens and attacks on U.S. sovereignty?

These are precisely the type of actions needed to bring this issue of protecting U.S. children to head, and force a resolution between the two countries. The disfunction of foreign courts should not impede attempts to take appropriate legal actions consistant with U.S. federal code that would highlight these issues.  Nor should the Department of State cower from its duty to protect U.S. children by publicly calling out countries which are guilty of this human rights offense.

The State Department publicly meets with, and offers assistance to, Japanese nationals with family members abducted to North Korea – yet turns its back on U.S. parents.  STATE also publicly condemns North Korea for the human rights violations the the North Korean abductions represent – Yet refuses to condemn Japan for supporting the abductions of the thousands of children taken to, or held in, Japan.  Japan in turn, uses this contradiction by the Department of State to justify its hypocrisy: http://bit.ly/JAcowX

Why does the State Department seem to have such woefully misplaced loyalties?  And why are they being allowed to violate U.S. Federal Law?

And what are the members of Congress going to do about it?  Because right now, Congress is sitting on their hands as the Department of State sells out U.S. children.


*I recommend that you also read my post: Child Abduction in Japan… The REAL Numbers


This is extremely disappointing considering the millions dollars of resources the U.S. State Department has invested for several decades now in this seemingly futile endeavor and all the false hope it has created for American left-behind parents.  It’s time for the State Department to think outside the box and try some new strategies on this issue that will actually bring American children back into the lives of U.S. left-behind parents.




Excerpts from this article:

The end of the current Diet session will soon arrive on June 21, but the results so far are astonishingly poor.

Only 20 of the 81 bills submitted by the government to the Diet in this session have been passed. The ratio of enacted bills is about 25 percent–usually about half the submitted bills have passed the Diet at this point in a session.

Also untouched in the Diet are a bill to establish a Japanese Embassy in South Sudan–where Japan has been assisting nation-building through such efforts as sending Self-Defense Forces personnel on a U.N. peacekeeping mission–and a bill asking the Diet to approve Japan’s joining the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague convention stipulates procedures among member states to resolve child custody issues in failed international marriages.