As Japan moves toward recognizing joint custody, a father nourishes hope for reunion…

In Japan, millions of children grow up without seeing one of their parents if they divorce. There is no joint custody in Japan, not yet.

But in May of this year, after 30 years of international pressure, the Japanese Diet finally passed the bill necessary to join the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Japan is now able to enforce the pact by March 2014 after the domestic procedures will be completed. Under the convention, the parents of abducted children will have a legal framework to request their children to be returned if they do not face grave danger, including domestic violence. In Japan, the police handle cases of domestic violence, and will determine whether the claim is true or false. Currently, if the parent who was granted the sole custody agrees to let the other parent see the child, the typical visitation is about once a month.

Japanese courts reportedly almost never grant custody to foreign parents, especially fathers, when international marriages break up. But sometimes, foreign mothers can use the Japanese family laws against their Japanese ex-spouses.

On July 11, 2009 Tamami, the daughter of Seiji Tashima, 62, was taken away from her home town in Hiroshima by her Russian mother. Tamami still lives in Japan, but her location is unknown to her father who was not granted child custody after divorce.

In Japan, close to 150,000 divorced parents per year lose contact with their children in Japan. Most have no choice but to obey the law.

Takao Tanase, a lawyer and great defender of children and parents rights who is currently a law professor at Chuo University in Tokyo, noted that Japan does have a criminal clause declaring child abduction as being a crime, and cases of domestic abduction are well known. However, the first abduction is usually not treated as a crime. “After a parental dispute, once the de facto custodian is designated by the Japanese family court, the left-behind Japanese parent can be arrested by the police if he/she tries to take back the child from the custodian parent,” he told The Daily Beast.

Joining The Hague Convention may not immediately affect divorced Japanese couples, but it will significantly change the Japanese society and family law. Japanese lawmakers say that if The Hague Convention is ratified, domestic laws will have to be rearranged in order to be consistent with it. Efforts are being made at the national Diet to change the domestic laws by March of 2014.

After a study session on The Hague Convention at the National Diet earlier this year, Tsuyoshi Shiina, 37, a lawmaker from the Minna no Tou  (Your Party, Center-Right) said that he was in favor for Japan joining the Hague Convention. “However I think that it will be difficult to convince the hard-headed lawmakers, because they believe it is a matter of ‘cultural conflict.’ Those who are not able to think of a ‘global Japan,’ will be those who will oppose Japan joining the Hague Convention.” He added.

John Gomez, Chairman of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion systematically attending Diet session meetings and talks.
John Gomez, Chairman of Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion systematically attending Diet session meetings and talks.

Cultural difference?

There is no joint custody in Japan (yet.) The notion of “giving up” a child is part of in Japanese society. Justifications for this are not clear. Article 766 of the Civil Code explains very clearly that it is a family court that would decide the matter of who will have custody over a child, visitation and other means of contact between the child and his/her mother or father if an agreement cannot be reached, or discussions are not possible. And the family court grants custody to the parent who abducted the child first.

 “In Japan, children are considered not to undergo stress during separation and divorce but actually, by being denied access to one of their parents, they experience far more stress than removing the other parent and saying, it is a stable environment,” John Gomez, chairman of the recently founded NPO, “Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion,” told JSRC.

Seiji Tashima, the father of Tamami Tashima, somewhere in Japan.
Seiji Tashima, 田島 清司 (62)  the father of Tamami Tashima 田島 珠美 (5), somewhere in Japan.

Until the laws will actually change in Japan, Japan Subculture Research Center will post Tamami’s story every year on the day she was separated from her father to allow her to Google-search her own name when she will need to find her Japanese father from whom she was forcibly taken away.

We feel that perhaps Seiji Tashima and his abducted child should be given a chance to reunite.

For support and information, please join the Kizuna-Child Parent Reunion, an NGO based in Tokyo that has its office near the National Diet Building and the US embassy.

If you want to help this NGO raise fund to continue its battle towards joint custody in Japan, please watch this video and the NGO’s homepage.

Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion has just received Japanese government approval as a Non Profit Organization. “KCPR helps children to reunite with their parent in constructive, diplomatic cross-cultural manners, working with various governments around the world, including the Japanese government, in trying to create a bridge or focal point where international efforts and Japanese domestic efforts can be brought together and government officials, parents from both sides of the marriage can work out their differences and bring their children together. There has been success in several cases where negotiation between parents has brought children reuniting with their parents.”

The multiple efforts of John Gomez in both Japan and the U.S. are probably showing results today, in a time when Japan might finally be joining the Hague Convention.