Tim Johnston: A father’s nightmare in Japan

December 6, 2012

http://www.tokyofamilies.com/sections/entry.php?id=810

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A father’s nightmare in Japan

By Tim Johnston | On the Cover

My journey to Japan began in 1996. I came here initially for a commercial modeling assignment and to sample the wonderful Japanese cuisine. I was tired of the United States and wanted to see the world. Japan was strange yet fascinating. It is a country where “no” means “yes” and “yes” means “no.”
I met my ex-wife on the night of my birthday in Narita, close to the airport. Coincidentally, we were born on the same day. That’s how this story began. We shared drinks and laughs. She was set to leave for the United Kingdom soon to study English. She gave me her name card and I called her a few days later. We began to date. She left me her car to use while she was away. I decided to move to Japan and wait for her return. We exchanged love letters and I took a job teaching English at the beach. This allowed me to exercise my passion for surfing. She returned and we moved in together, an arrangement that lasted eleven years.
We were married for two of those eleven years. We felt we had a good relationship. We took many overseas trips together and she even spent time with my mother and sister in France. Over the years she repeatedly asked my family, “When will Tim marry me?”
Some nine years after we first met, our wonderful son Kai Endo was born. It was the best day of my life when I saw his smiling face for the first time. He had the cutest grin and was definitely a mixed-race child. He looked more caucasian than Japanese, with blondish hair, but with his mother’s forehead and almond-shaped Asian eyes. He was big too, weighing about 3,500 grams at birth.
His mother returned to the apartment we had recently purchased after the traditional six weeks with her family. She looked exhausted, as was to be expected with a young infant and the new challenges of sleep deprivation. I began to help more with the chores and be the best husband I could be.
Conversations became more rigid and she often shouted demands at me. I accepted her change in behavior as the result of her being tired or having difficulty with her new role as a mother. Increasingly, she began to mention how single mothers in Japan are entitled to all sorts of benefits, such as subsidized education, health care, etc. I confronted her. “Why would you say such a thing?” But her reply was, “I don’t need you! You’re a foreigner anyway.  Our son is Japanese and I never want to live in your country!” I asked her how she could be so mean and spiteful.
We were drifting apart. I walked on eggshells around her when she was having her moments. It wasn’t long after that she asked for a divorce. I asked her if she was joking. She said no and walked away. When I saw her the following day, she asked me when I planned to move out.  I realized that this was no joke. She wanted me out and to have nothing to do with me anymore. I tried to get her to talk but she just tuned out. I remember vividly holding my son for the final two months before I moved out and just kissing him over and over and telling him how much I loved him and that this wasn’t his fault.
I signed the divorce papers and took an apartment close by so I could be near my son. My ex-wife had the audacity to tell me I should return to the United States. I had never felt so low in my life. After having my son, I felt complete as a person and loved my ex-wife more than anything. We had a child together. Now, my world was in shock. I reminded myself that I had to be a man. I decided to study Japanese more and accept being independent in a strange land. It was so difficult and often I couldn’t sleep. My nights were filled with questions about my son. What did he eat today? What’s he doing? Is he watching his favorite cartoon?
I told his mother upon moving out that I would see my son everyday. She agreed that I could see him once a week. We would meet in a local park and play together, sing songs and study English. He was always happy to see me and I was even happier to see him. My ex-wife, on the other hand, never once looked at me or talked to me when I met my son. As a young boy, he could understand English very well.
Some four years passed, and then one day everything changed. My wife got out of her car and walked towards me. I thought, “Wow! She’s actually going to speak to me.” I will never forget that she came within two meters of me. She looked scared. Then she said, “We are busy and I don’t have time for you to see your son anymore. I’m working now and I’m too busy.”
I live in the same neighborhood, I said. I can help, I can take him where he needs to go and pick him up from kindergarten. She said no… End of story! “Why don’t you just go back to your country and leave us alone?” she suggested. My son was seeing us like this for the first time, and a tear began to roll down his face. I asked her why she is doing this in front of our son.
She finally agreed to a two-hour meeting every two weeks. I was devastated. She grabbed my son’s arm and dragged him to the car. “I love you Kai,” I shouted. “Don’t worry, everything will be OK.”
The situation soon became unbearable. I couldn’t believe someone could be so heartless. She never returned my calls or emails inquiring about my son. I would confirm our next meeting but she would refuse to reply. This was escalating into her dominance and the alienation of her son’s father. Kai was now four years old. This carried on for two more years.
Meanwhile, my son was growing into a young man. I was so proud of him. When we did meet, we had the best four hours per month, filling the time with a lot of pictures, sports, affection and whatever else he wanted.
And then came 2:46 pm, March 11. After the initial tremor of the earthquake had subsided I panicked. I called my ex-wife and sent her emails to check that my son was safe. She never replied. Not even to say he was unhurt. I drove by her apartment but the lights were out, as with most places. Her car was gone. I guessed she had gone to her mother’s. I began to panic. I knew Japan would never be the same after March 11. I needed to see my son and hear his voice. I was worried that he may be suffering from trauma.
Following the earthquake, his mother never let the two of us talk. She probably thought I would move. Perhaps she would tell my son I had evacuated or died. However, after about a month I received a letter asking me to attend mediation court. When I opened the letter I fell to my knees and sobbed. The letter from her read, “I’m busy and have stress. You can see your son after mediation court.”
I finished  my seventh mediation hearing. The court granted me one visit with my son. He was worried about me and his mother refused to tell him anything. I comforted him and was thankful he was able to see his father. However, she told the court that I couldn’t see my son anymore. She is too busy, she said.
Japan must change its child custody laws! My current situation is unacceptable. I love my only son. I won’t ever give him up. Surely I have rights too? He is my son as well!
This is where I am today. I urge Japan to change its custody laws. I and all the other left-behind parents deserve rights and access to our children. Japanese law grants sole custody, usually to the mother. This was my wife’s plan all along. I just want to be a good father and hope Japan wakes up soon and realizes children need both parents. Loving children shouldn’t be alienated from loving parents. Japan, it’s 2012! Please help me to get access to my only son.
Tim Johnston is a resident of Narita, Chiba, Japan and the father of Kai Endo.
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