http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/08/09/national/supreme-court-manual-lays-out-procedures-for-hague-treaty-child-retrievals/

 

 / 

Top court seeks to minimize trauma to kids

Manual issued for Hague treaty child retrievals

BY MAGDALENA OSUMI

STAFF WRITER

AUG 10, 2013 

The Supreme Court has issued a case-by-case manual for court-appointed administrators on how to retrieve children in parental cross-border abduction cases under the Hague Convention, minimizing the use of force to avoid traumatizing the kids, the court’s spokesman said.

The manual, issued June 14, outlines measures the administrators who would be assigned the task of returning children to their place of habitual residence, even by force, should take as Japan considers joining the Hague Convention by the end of next March, the spokesman said Friday.

It says the administrators “should take utmost consideration” to protect the interests of the child.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction mandates procedures for a child abducted by one parent of a failed marriage to be swiftly returned to its country of habitual residence. The convention only applies to children under the age of 16.

The nation has come under fire in recent years over cases in which Japanese parents in estranged marriages overseas have brought children to Japan in defiance of divorce court custody or visitation rights rulings abroad.

Often, the estranged Japanese spouse claims to have fled from an abusive relationship. But the removal of a child from its country of habitual residence has been deemed a violation of that nation’s law, and the abducting parent a fugitive.

Under legislation that cleared the Diet in May, a court-designated officer can forcibly retrieve a child abducted or retained by a parent residing in Japan in defiance of an overseas custody ruling and who refuses to hand over the child.

The manual calls for the officer to attempt to take custody of the child at the home of the abducting parent, in an environment where privacy is thus protected and the child feels safe. Taking a child away in a public place, such as a day care center or on a street, may lead to “unpredictable situations” and traumatize the child, it said.

If the child cries or refuses to be returned to the other parent, the officer should not use force, according to the manual.

Should an officer visit a home to retrieve a child and is told it is not present, the child’s name should be called out and a check made on the presence of the child’s belongings, the manual says.

The officer is authorized to forcibly enter and search a home if there are indications the child is inside.

In the case of an infant, the manual allows the officer, with the parent’s consent, to remove it from the crib. But the officer must not try to forcibly take custody of an infant if the parent is hugging it tightly to prevent such action.

The manual, issued by the Supreme Court’s Civil Affairs Bureau, is based on meetings involving judges and other court officials nationwide in January and February. The gatherings covered past cases of failed domestic marriages where one parent fled with a child from the country of habitual residence without the consent of the other parent.

Court-designated officers have retrieved children in those cases but have not had specific manuals or regulations to follow. The latest document urges such officers in domestic cases to follow its instructions to avoid harming the child in any way.

In past divorce custody cases in Japan, officers apparently tried to retrieve children in public places, resulting in shouting matches.

Fiscal 2010 saw 120 domestic cases processed in which a parent demanded the forcible return of an offspring. The figure was 133 in fiscal 2011 and 131 in fiscal 2012.

Japan is the only Group of Eight member yet to accede to the Hague Convention. If it becomes a signatory, the cases will be handled by a family court in Tokyo or Osaka.

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New paper by Colin Jones

August 5, 2013

http://law.nus.edu.sg/asli/working_paper_d.aspx?sno=WPS031

 

 

ASLI Working Paper Series

Publication Title Towards an “Asian” child abduction treaty? Some observations on Singapore and Japan joining the Hague Convention
Publisher Asian Law Institute
Series WPS031
Publication Date Aug 2013
Author/Speaker Colin P.A. Jones
This paper will briefly compare the regimes adopted by Japan and Singapore for adopting the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, together with the two countries’ underlying family law systems in order to consider whether an “Asian” approach to the treaty may develop in the future.
View/Download (PDF) File :

April 16, 2013

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/04/17/national/film-sheds-light-on-plight-of-left-behind-parents/#.UW3xorWUSeR

NATIONAL
Film sheds light on plight of left-behind parents
BY MASAMI ITO
STAFF WRITER
APR 17, 2013
ARTICLE HISTORY
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Images of left-behind parents, holding up photos of their children, flash across the screen. In the United States, Canada, Europe and even Japan, these parents are waiting to reunite with offspring taken away by their estranged Japanese spouses.

The documentary film “From The Shadows,” completed last December, features five left-behind parents and their struggles to reconnect with their children.

During a recent interview with The Japan Times, producer and director David Hearn stressed that he was motivated to make the film to raise awareness and understanding.

In the 6½ years it took to make the film, Hearn and his coproducer and codirector, Matthew Antell, traveled to five countries, including Japan, to chronicle the parents’ torments.

“When you get to meet left-behind parents and know more about them, you can feel the kind of pain and heartache they experience. These parents are not different from you or me, they are real, imperfect, but always loving and desperate to reconnect with their own children,” Hearn said.

“Their relationship with their children fulfills their identity, who they are and without it they are often shattered.”

Regan Suzuki, Paul Toland and Paul Wong from the U.S., Murray Wood from Canada and Rina Furuichi from Japan, the parents in the film, all have had their children taken away by a Japanese spouse or relatives of the estranged spouse, and all have effectively had no contact with their sons and daughters.

These cases are only the tip of the iceberg. Many left-behind parents have spent years trying to reconnect with children who have been taken to Japan from abroad. Toland, for example, has been forced to live apart from his daughter, who was only 9 months old at the time his then-wife took her in 2003. Wood has been separated from his two children since November 2004, when they were just elementary school students.

“When kids need parents is when they’re growing up. They need me now,” Wood says in the film. “They need their dad to help them go from where they are now to solid, confident adults who have the best chance that they possibly can to be successful in life. That’s what they need, that’s what my job is.”

Some of the fathers, including Wood, take the desperate step of approaching their children as they walk to school. Although Wood succeeds, the lack of contact over the years makes their reunion heartbreakingly awkward as Wood struggles to interact with his son and daughter.

Hearn, who as a child was himself caught in the middle of a bruising custody battle between his parents, encourages left-behind parents to reach out to their children, to let them know that they haven’t been forgotten. The director recalled the awkward interactions when his father started showing up at his sporting events, but he was grateful for the man’s efforts, even though they didn’t have much to say to each other.

“For children who are growing up, learning and developing, the sudden loss of one parent can be devastating. I was lucky because losing one of my parents was never a consideration when my parents had their custody battle, but for children in Japan, if a custody battle occurs, it often means that they will lose contact with one parent,” Hearn said. “We find it unacceptable that this result is the best we can do for our kids.”

The underlying problem for many cases is Japan’s refusal to join The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The treaty aims to prevent cross-border kidnappings by parents and to secure the swift return of children wrongfully taken or who are being held in any member state.

After years of international criticism, the government is finally poised to join the 89 other member states, if the Diet approves related bills as early as next month.

Japan is also the only Group of Eight nation that has yet to sign on to the treaty.

Many such abductions are in defiance of court rulings on child custody and visitation rights handed down in other countries that had been the offsprings’ nation of domicile, as well as the nation where they were born. Thus when a ruling is violated by an apparent flight to another country, the spouse could be subject to a fugitive arrest warrant.

Strong domestic opposition, however, remains.

Many Japanese mothers, for example, claim domestic violence prompted them to take the children to Japan in the first place. And Japanese authorities have repeatedly stressed that in such cases, children will not be sent back regardless of the convention.

Left-behind parents, however, feel this argument could be an easy justification for courts in Japan to side with the alleged abused party and not return their children.

“I’m worried because there are plenty of signatory countries all over the world (whose) compliance record can be very up or down,” Hearn said. “My worry is that Japan signs but nothing really changes. But I hope I’m wrong.”

Some experts and foreign officials have also questioned the effectiveness of Japan’s participation, citing not only the sole-custody law but also the custom of not proactively supporting visitation rights for noncustodial parents.

According to Japanese family courts, there were 409 cases of parents seeking the return of their abducted children in 2001 — a number that jumped to 1,985 by 2011. Experts point out that undoubtedly many more cases exist because these numbers reflect only those cases that have been acknowledged by the courts.

Hearn, along with many left-behind parents, expressed guarded optimism about Japan’s readiness to comply with the treaty.

“We are aware that signing The Hague Convention will not cure everything because there will continue to be situations that are difficult to handle,” Hearn said. “But if signing the treaty accomplishes one thing, we hope that it will create a situation where more relationships between children and their parents are kept intact.”

For more information, visit fromtheshadowsmovie.com.

http://japandailypress.com/supreme-court-fines-woman-after-denying-ex-husband-access-to-child-0326288

Supreme Court fines woman after denying ex-husband access to child

posted on APRIL 3, 2013 by ADAM WESTLAKE in NATIONAL

The Japanese Supreme Court ruled last week that a woman pay her ex-husband 50,000 yen (approx. $535) for each time that she denied him access to visit their daughter. The mother had agreed to regular meetings between the child and father in a family court settlement, and this marks the first time that Japan’s highest court has ordered penalties on a parent with custody for breaking their visitation agreements.

The Supreme Court’s decision was an upholding of a ruling made by the Sapporo High Court, and the measure of “indirect enforcement” is said to often be used in cases where a debtor is ordered to make cash payments to a creditor as a way of having a psychological impact on those failing to obey a court’s decision. Justice Ryuko Sakurai said in the ruling that a parent can be ordered to make payments when the date, frequency and length of a meeting, or transfer method of a child that were agreed upon are disregarded. Other courts have set precedence of punishing custodial parents for not meeting their agreements, but as this is the first time the Supreme Court has made a ruling, it is expected to set a far-reaching standard.

This decision seems like a significant contribution to the changes in parental rights in cases of divorce in Japan. The country almost always grants custody to the mother, and there is no recognition of dual-custody, often leaving the father with no rights to see their children. In the last decade, the number of court cases involving divorced, non-custodial parents demanding to see their children has tripled, less than 3,000 in 2001, to well over 8,000 in 2011. In addition, the Japanese government has finally committed to joining the Hague Convention on child abduction, an international treaty that requires taken children to be returned to the country of their original home in order to resolve custody in a failed international marriage. Up until now, Japan has been seen as a safe-haven for its nationals to bring their children back to without notifying their foreign spouses.

ジャックコロー 11月2010年 from kingyochingyo on Vimeo.

Sad commentary on attitudes of the Japanese system, the law enforcement system in particular, towards peaceful, kind-hearted left-behind parents who go through tremendous efforts to try to reach out to their children. It is obvious how uncomfortable the law enforcement is with this issue, to the point that it interrupts the filming of this complete event.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20130117a9.html

Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013

Hague pact on fast track, Abe to tell Obama
Kyodo
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will tell U.S. President Barack Obama when they meet, probably in February, that he wants to speed up the procedure for Japan to join the international treaty on settling cross-border child custody disputes, sources said Wednesday.

The previous administration led by former Democratic Party of Japan leader Yoshihiko Noda had already made participation in the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction an international commitment.

The Abe team is aiming to submit a bill to the Diet early this year to endorse the convention, which sets rules for the prompt return of children under 16, taken or retained by one parent following the failure of international marriages, to the country of their habitual residence.

Domestic legislation is necessary to join the convention, but a related bill was scrapped when the Lower House was dissolved in November.

Among the Group of Eight nations, Japan is the only one yet to join the convention and has been facing calls from the United States and European countries to get on board soon.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/nn20130104f2.html

Friday, Jan. 4, 2013

Child custody injustices hard to fix
Joining Hague may curb parental abductions if legal mindset evolves

By MASAMI ITO
Staff writer
On May 6, 2010, Yasuyuki Watanabe, an internal affairs ministry bureaucrat, came home to find his wife and 2-year old daughter gone, along with their clothes.

nn20130104f2a
Playing catchup: Yasuyuki Watanabe, deputy mayor of Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, speaks during an interview at a Tokyo hotel on Dec. 11. SATOKO KAWASAKI

His wife had spirited away their daughter near the end of Golden Week, just days after he was enjoying the holidays taking her on hikes and to local festivals, recalled Watanabe, 40, now deputy mayor of Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture. He recounted how he carried his daughter on his back and how they sang songs together until she fell asleep, snuggling against him.

His world was turned upside down that fateful day. Last month she turned 5.

"It is so important for children to feel loved by both parents, especially when they are growing up, and I think that my daughter feels abandoned by me, that I left her because I didn't love her anymore," Watanabe told The Japan Times during a recent interview in Tokyo. "The most painful thing about my situation is when I think about how my daughter must be feeling."

Watanabe is one of many parents in Japan who have been torn away from their children after a falling-out with their spouse in a nation that grants only sole custody, usually to the mother, and where it is customary for parents not living with their offspring, to have little, if any, contact with them.

This has also been a widely reported harsh reality for foreign parents, including those living overseas whose children have been taken to Japan by estranged Japanese spouses.

These so-called parental child abductions are behind growing calls for Japan to join the international Hague treaty to prevent such cross-border kidnappings.

"These two problems are actually closely related because the domestic and international situation is the same — your children are abducted one day out of the blue and you are forbidden from seeing them," Watanabe said.

For Watanabe, what followed was a long legal battle with his wife, and divorce proceedings, which continue.

Initially his wife let him see their daughter a few times, but that stopped abruptly when he was slapped with domestic violence charges — which he branded a lie.

His wife alleged he had threatened her with a large pair of scissors while she was pregnant and told her he knew yakuza who would be willing to help him out with the situation by pushing her off a station platform in front of a train. The violence charges were later dropped.

"There is nothing more terrifying than receiving an order to appear before the court over 'DV' allegations. I was completely distraught. The judge, however, recognized that much of her claims were questionable and warned she could be charged with false accusations, so she dropped the charges the day before the ruling was to be made," Watanabe said.

But his wife then filed a lawsuit, demanding custody of their child and, again, adding allegations of abuse.

Last February, presiding Judge Tatsushige Wakabayashi at the Chiba Family Court granted Watanabe's ex-wife custody of their daughter from the viewpoint of "continuity," ruled that Watanabe had committed domestic violence and rejected his demand that his daughter be returned. The Supreme Court finalized the ruling in September.

While his legal battles dragged on, Watanabe asked lawmakers to address the issue and his case was deliberated on in the Diet.

Given his public profile, Watanabe originally wished to remain anonymous. But to garner public support for his situation, he recently came forward to tell his story to the press.

"I've been labeled a DV husband, and the judge completely ignored the facts and the law in my case. I had no choice but to stand up and fight," he said.

Watanabe has solicited the help of a special group of lawmakers who are trying to get Judge Wakabayashi fired from the bench. Among the so-called left-behind parents in Japan, Wakabayashi has spurred widespread ire, especially when in 2011, he criticized then-Justice Minister Satsuki Eda for telling the Diet that priority should be placed on the welfare of the child rather than the "principle of continuity."

"There are many people in similar situations. I cannot give up for their sake. It is not just about me and my daughter. This is a battle for all children and their parents," Watanabe said.

According to data compiled by family courts, there were 409 parents seeking the return of their offspring from an estranged spouse in 2001, whereas by 2011, there were 1,985 parents seeking to get their kids back. The numbers, however, reflect only the legal cases filed by left-behind parents that were officially accepted by the nation's family courts. Experts speculate they constitute only the tip of the iceberg.

Masayuki Tanamura, a professor of family law at Waseda University, said various factors are behind the increase in parental child abductions, including Japan's sole custody principle and the current legal framework that generally grants that right to mothers.

"Times have changed — fathers are more involved in child-rearing, and the legal system — including the principle of sole custody — makes battles over children more likely to happen. I think this part of Japan's legal system is outdated," Tanamura said.

One major difference that makes Japan's legal system peculiar is that when an estranged spouse initially takes a child, it isn't considered a crime. This is because it is common for an estranged parent, generally the mother, to take the children to her parents' domicile if a divorce is being contemplated.

But if the left-behind parent then subsequently tries to retrieve the offspring spirited away from their home, the action is considered kidnapping. Tanamura claimed there are many cases in which parents who spirit offspring away are unaware such action could be construed as abduction. From their point of view, they are merely considering a divorce or fleeing an abusive environment.

"It is hard to label all parental kidnappings as illegal . . . but at the same time, there are many cases that could constitute a double standard. It's OK for mothers to first take the children away, but when the fathers try to get them back, this is illegal," Tanamura said. "This is based on the longtime concept that children belong with their mothers."

To prevent children from losing access to both parents after a separation, Article 766 of the Civil Law was revised in 2011 to specify that visitation rights, child-support payments and other matters be determined during nonlitigated divorce proceedings, and that the welfare of the child be considered first.

But even this change can't help people like Watanabe because his case was ruled on after the amendment. "The aim of the revision is to promote forming agreements (over child care) when getting a divorce. But there is nothing that guarantees compliance," Tanamura said.

Tanamura and other experts thus agree that if and when Japan signs the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, it must at the same time institute fundamental changes in the legal system, and the public mindset must also be overhauled, or joining the convention will lead to naught.

John Gomez, chairman of the recently founded Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, a group of Japanese and non-Japanese parents, friends and supporters advocating the right of children to have access to both parents, emphasized the need for left-behinds to cooperate because simply joining the Hague Convention will not solve anything in Japan if it continues to take a one-sided approach to domestic custodial rights.

"The problem of international cases and in-country cases has the same root cause — Japanese family law and the courts," Gomez said.

"The abduction issue affects all people in Japan — mothers as well as fathers, Japanese as well as non-Japanese."

The Hague treaty aims for the swift return of children wrongfully taken out of the country of their "habitual residence" by a parent to prevent cross-border parental kidnappings. Of the Group of Eight countries, Japan is the only nation yet to sign the convention.

Japan has been under pressure from member states, including the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada, to join the convention, but it has been reluctant, given strong domestic opposition, especially from Japanese mothers who claim they fled to Japan with their children to protect themselves from abusive ex-spouses.

Facing severe criticism from the international community, however, Japan finally reached the point of submitting a bid to sign the treaty and Hague-related legislation to the Diet during the last session presided over by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan. But the politicians instead spent most of their time bickering over internal power struggles related to other domestic issues, pushing the Hague Convention to the sidelines once again.

And it remains unclear whether the issue will move forward under the new government led by the Liberal Democratic Party.

Government officials have expressed confidence that once deliberations begin, the Hague bid will be approved by the Diet. But parents, including Gomez, a longtime Japan resident who himself is separated from his Japanese wife and is having difficulty seeing his daughter, say joining the Hague treaty is only a step in the right direction, not a silver bullet.

Gomez explained that on the legal front, parental kidnappings must be stopped, visitation rights made enforceable and the idea of joint custody introduced. But he added that public awareness must also be raised at the same time so the public understands the benefits of the changes to ensure the rules are followed.

"The Hague is only one tool. The ultimate goal for us is a social and legal transformation of Japan . . . a complete transformation in terms of mindset and practice," Gomez said. "We firmly believe, Japanese and non-Japanese alike, that the social and legal transformation is for the betterment of Japanese society and children and improvement in the quality of life."

http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/human/symp_en_130116.html

“Symposium on the Hague Convention
– in Considering the Modality of International Family Mediation –”
organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

December 11, 2012

The Government of Japan has been making efforts toward the conclusion of “the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the Hague Convention)”. Should it be concluded, the Government of Japan will designate the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a Central Authority which provides assistance for securing the return of children and other objectives of the Convention. Under the Convention, the Ministry shall take, either directly or through any intermediary, all appropriate measures to secure the voluntary return of children or to bring about an amicable resolution of the issues. Mediation, a non-judicial form of amicable solution, encourages both parties to move voluntarily on to an agreement and often successfully avoids the increased complication of the issues. Contracting States have recognised the importance of mediation in this light and shared this view at such forum as the Special Commission Meetings. Nevertheless, currently in Japan, there are no sufficient experiences or knowledge accumulated in the field of international mediation concerning child removal issues.

The “Symposium on the Hague Convention – in Considering the Modality of International Family Mediation –” to be held on 16th January in 2013 will be a forum for discussing the modality of international mediation in Japan. The discussion will include sharing the experiences and knowledge of experts from the U.K. and Germany with a wealth of experience in mediation within the scope of the Hague Convention, and exchanging views on what modalities for international mediation should be in place in Japan after the Hague Convention comes into effect.

We are looking forward to your participation and please register your attendance as guided below.

Date

Date:
Wednesday 16th January, 2013, 13:00 – 16:30
Venue:
Mita 2-1-8, Minato-Ku, Tokyo, Mita Kaigisho
Map [PDF]
Organiser:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan
Cooperation:
Japan Association of Arbitrators
Sponsorship:
Japan Federation of Bar Associations
Language:
Japanese and English(For those who wish to hear a simultaneous interpreting, the limited number of earphones will be available.)
Admission:
Free of Charge
Capacity:
Approximately 200 people
Preliminary Programme
13:00 Opening
Opening Address(Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
13:20
Keynote Speech
1) Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE(Solicitor and Partner at Dawson Cornwell, Chair of the Board of Trustees of reunite, United Kingdom)
Theme : “Cross-border Child Custody Disputes and the Ideal Modality of the Hague Convention and the Mediation”
2) Isomi Suzuki (Attorney at law, Chairperson of the study group on private mediation schemes of Japan Association of Arbitrators)
Theme : “Challenge of International Mediation in Japan in response to the Hague Convention Cases”
14:25 Break
14:40
Panel Discussion
Theme : “Mediation in the Framework of the Hague Convention – Learning from Experiences of Germany and the United Kingdom-”

Moderators :
Mikiko Otani (Attorney at law, Member of the study group on private mediation schemes of Japan Association of Arbitrators, Vice-chair of the Hague Convention Working Group of Japan Federation of Bar Associations)
Miyuki Sano (Attorney at law, Member of the Hague Convention Working Group of Japan Federation of Bar Association)

Panelists :

1) Sandra Fenn (Expert for the Mediation of Hague Convention, reunite, United Kingdom)
2) Masayuki Tanamura (Professor, Faculty of Law, Waseda University)
3) Yoshiko Aibara (Attorney at law, Member of the Hague Convention Working Group of Japan Federation of Bar Association)
4) Christoph Cornelius Paul (Lawyer, MiKK, Germany)
5) Isomi Suzuki (Attorney at law, Chairperson of the study group on private mediation schemes of Japan Association of Arbitrators)
6) Akio Miyajima (Deputy Director-General, Foreign Policy Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Registration for the Symposium

To register for this symposium, please email us at hague.symposium@mofa.go.jp by 18:00 on Tuesday 25th December. Your email should include the following information:
Subject:Registration for Hague Symposium
(1) Name
(2) Organisation
(3) Position
(4) Telephone number
In the case of group registration, please provide the necessary information of all participants.
Seating capacity at the symposium is limited (approximately 200 people) and we may be unable to invite all applicants if we receive more applications than available seats. We will notify you whether a seat is available or not by around a week ahead of the symposium.
Information provided by you on this registration will be processed properly and only used for the purpose of this symposium.
Please come well ahead of the starting time as we will confirm your name at the reception desk. Persons not following our staff’s guidance or instructions in the hall will be refused admission or asked to leave.
Please come to the venue by public transportation if possible as the Mita Kaigisho has no parking areas.
Enquiries about the Symposium

Hague Convention Division, Foreign Policy Bureau, Ministry of the Foreign Affairs of Japan
Tel:03-5501-8000 (Enquiries are accepted from 9:30 to 17:30 on weekdays.)
FAX:03-5501-8239
Email:hague.symposium@mofa.go.jp

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

img_917_l

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.

These statistics were provided by John Gomez of Kizuna-CPR (http://kizuna-cpr.org/meeting_summary_november_24_2012):

“4.6 million divorces 1992 – 2010, one child per divorce on average, 58% loss of access according to NHK Close Up Gendai yields an estimated 2.7 million children in Japan who have lost their relationship with their parent during this time, which is a human rights violation. It is about 150,000 children per year.”
That means every hour an additional 17 children living in Japan are being shut out of the life of one of their parents.  Considering the cumulative impact, not just in terms of the number of children involved, but also left-behind parents, family members, and others, this problem is having a devastating effect on a sizeable percentage of the Japanese population.