Today marks 5 years to the day since this blog was established (itself 1 year to the day after my son was taken). Prior to events of 6 years ago it had never occurred to me to write a blog. Probably the best piece of advice that I was given however, by an Irish left behind parent soon after my son was taken, was to set up a blog so that is what I did on 20 November 2012 having by then spent a year apart from my son. As I wrote at the time, the blog had two objectives: to re-establish contact with my son and to raise awareness of the issue of international parental child abduction.
Marching through the Asakusa district in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, about 30 Japanese and foreign participants held up a multilingual banner reading, “Stop Parental Child Abduction!”
Demonstrators also carried signs reading “More visitation time” and “Affection from both parents to children” during the hour-long march on Children’s Day.
It was the first rally organized by Kodomo no Kenri wo Mamoru Bekkyo Oya Forum (Forum for Left-Behind Parents Protecting Children’s Rights) to address the problem of parental child abduction in Japan.
“I want people to know that children have the right to see both of their parents and that parents are responsible for accomplishing that,” said Daisuke Tanaka, the organizer of the event.
Tanaka has been struggling to spend time with his daughter since his wife whisked her away in March 2016. Since then, he has only been allowed to meet her twice a month for three hours at a time, he said.
Other participants told The Japan Times similar stories.
In most cases, a spouse abruptly leaves with the children before filing for divorce or custody rights. Tanaka said child abductions will only continue to fester unless Japan approves the concept of granting joint custody.
“It’s usual for the court to give custody to the parent who lives with the child, and that’s why there are so many cases of abduction. If there’s joint custody, better conversations and negotiations would likely take place,” he said.
Michihiko Sugiyama, a lawyer who participated in the demonstration, said the biggest issue is that Japanese law only allows custody to be awarded to one parent. Once separated from his family, he decided to take part in the rally to share his experience.
The civil code requires parents to decide on visitation and custody arrangements, but research shows people are increasingly forgoing such discussions and heading straight to court mediation. In fiscal 2015, 12,264 cases of mediation involving visitation rights were accepted in family courts nationwide, almost double from 10 years earlier, according to court data.
A group of lawmakers is drafting a bill to help divorced or separated parents see their children more easily, but the issue has yet to gain traction. Some are concerned that parents with a history of domestic violence are too dangerous to be granted visitation rights.
Rally participant Susumu Ishizuka, 48, claimed there must be better awareness of the issue because the current perception is that abandoned parents may have committed domestic abuse.
“People who are against such a bill are linking left-behind parents with domestic violence too easily without sufficient understanding,” said Ishizuka, whose spouse ran off with his 5-year-old child three years ago. Their divorce has not been finalized, but according to the court’s decision, he is only permitted to see his child for two hours every two months.
“I can only meet my child in an appointed place, and I’m not allowed to give them presents. This is far from a parent-child relationship,” he said.
Two adult daughters contacted Lifelines hoping to get help with issues related to their fathers. One is looking for information pertaining to a legal case over her late father’s health while he served in the U.S. armed forces in Okinawa.
First, however, is M.Z., the daughter of a foreign mother and Japanese father. She was taken from Japan as a young child and has not seen her father in 25 years, but she would now like to reestablish contact with him.
Japan formally joined the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction in 2014, which states that children under 16 should be returned to their country of “habitual residence” if taken across international borders by one parent. According to the Foreign Ministry, this move has helped reduce abductions to Japan, and has aided in the successful return of children both to and from Japan. However, the treaty is not retroactive, so it has no bearing on cases that occurred before it came into effect.
M.Z. writes: “My father instructed me to contact him but I was scared and confused, so I didn’t. Now I’m looking for my family in Japan so they can know my children. I have language limitations because I don’t speak or read Japanese. Are there any organizations that help children to contact their Japanese families?” M.Z. adds that she had tried contacting various groups on her own but had met with little support.
I contacted John Gomez at Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion (Kizuna CPR), a Japan-based NPO group that advocates for left-behind parents and their children.
“We are working to enable children in Japan to have loving relationships with both of their parents,” says Gomez. “To achieve this, we support changes in public policy, raise public awareness and help individual cases.”
Sadly, losing contact with a parent is all too common for children of divorce in Japan.
“Within Japan, the research that we have done indicates that since 1992 there have been an estimated 3 million children who have lost access to one of their parents after divorce,” says Gomez. “This is about 1 in 6 children. This figure was derived by looking at divorce statistics and surveys from the Ministry of Health Labor and Welfare, showing what percentage of parents do not visit their children after divorce in Japan. Japanese government officials acknowledge this number when they cite about 150,000 children per year losing access to one of their parents after divorce.”
Gomez adds that in international cases of abduction from the U.S. to Japan alone, more than 400 children have been reported abducted between 1994 and 2015 and almost none of these U.S. children have ever been returned by a Japanese court order.
Gomez encourages M.Z. and others like her to reach out, as many parents have also been seeking their children over the years. He notes that social media and the internet are useful tools for enabling such reunions, and that he has personally witnessed some.
“Never lose hope, never give up,” he advises. “With effort and perseverance, amazing results can occur. As the social mind-set in Japan changes, more reunions will happen. It is a human right for children to have a relationship with both of their parents and among the most important things for any person to experience in their life. This is an important part of what makes us human. Recovering this relationship makes us whole again.”
In a follow-up email to Lifelines, M.Z. echoes this sentiment, explaining that she has developed a new perspective on her situation over time and after becoming a parent herself.
“I didn’t speak about what happened for 20 years,” she writes. “One day browsing on the internet, I found an article about children’s rights in Japan. Until this time I had always thought I grew up in a violent environment, but I have discovered it was so much more complex than that. I’m talking as a daughter, as a mother and as a part of a multicultural family.”
Lifelines wishes M.Z. success in her search for her father. Contact email@example.com or visit www.kizuna-cpr.org for more information about Kizuna CPR. If anyone has any tips or personal experience in a case like M.Z.’s, please share your story.
American reader A.P. is looking for anyone who knew her father, Howard Grisso:
“My dad served as a weatherman at Naha and the Kadena Air Force Base (in Okinawa) from 1965 to 1966. Last year he passed away from angiosarcoma, which is caused by Agent Orange, according to his oncologist. He began the fight with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs prior to his death, but they have denied his case twice and now we are waiting on a hearing/appeal. We have been instructed to get buddy statements and do research on the base. We would like to hear from anyone who may have known Howard Grisso, or has any pictures of the base during that time or any other information.”
If you can help A.P., please contact Lifelines and we will put you in contact with her.
Send your queries and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fathers seek advice about visas for divorced dads and scholarships for dual-national kids
- May 1, 2016
This week’s column deals with two inquiries from American fathers of bicultural children.
CJ is currently based in the United States, having returned to his home country to take care of an ailing parent after getting divorced from his Japanese wife. His two young children reside in Japan with their mother.
In recent years there has been a lot in the English-language media about international tug-of-love cases concerning bicultural children. However, CJ’s divorce was an amicable one, and his ex-wife supports his desire to come back to live in Japan and stay involved in their children’s lives.
While in theory this would seem beneficial for all involved, it reality it isn’t so easy for a foreign national to remain in Japan once they lose their spouse visa. CJ writes:
I know about the visa called the “family-related visa” and its stipulations. It specifically states that a foreign national who has been divorced and has minor children will be able to obtain an unrestricted visa, allowing the divorced parent to partake in any field of work he or she desires.
I applied for a work visa and was denied, so I am going to file again, only this time for a family-related visa. I simply want to help my ex-wife financially and show my kids that I really care. I want to know why this type of visa appears to be hush-hush. It would save the government money in the long run.
There are four categories of family-related visa:
1) Spouse or child of Japanese national: self-explanatory.
2) Permanent resident: If you are married to a Japanese national, you can apply for permanent residency after three years of marriage. (Single people usually have to have lived in Japan for 10 years to apply.) The obvious advantage of being a permanent resident is that you can stay in Japan even if you get divorced or your partner dies. However, there are certain requirements for eligibility, and being granted permanent residence right away is not a given.
3) Spouse or child of a permanent resident: again, self-explanatory.
4) Long-term resident: Includes refugees, descendants of Japanese nationals, those divorced from Japanese nationals and those caring for their Japanese children. It is this final category that relates to CJ.
Lifelines talked to staff in the visa sections at the Immigration Bureau and the Foreign Ministry. As CJ notes, the long-term resident option seems to be difficult to define. While both the people I spoke to admitted that a divorced foreign father like CJ could apply, neither one could provide specific parameters for the application. It very much seems to be “case by case” and is “a difficult procedure.”
Their advice to CJ was to find another reason to come to Japan first, such as getting a job and obtaining a working visa, and then apply for a long-term resident visa.
“The more documents he has to prove he can support himself in Japan and that the children need his support, the better his chances,” advised one person. “Documents would include proof of funds, proof he is the father of the children and proof that his former wife needs financial support.”
I asked until what age children would be considered dependents. “In principle up to 18, but it depends on the case” was the answer.
In a follow-up email, CJ shared the news that his application for long-term residency had unfortunately been turned down, but he hoped the information might be of use to someone in a similar situation.
Our next query comes from HM, the father of a teenage girl. Last year his daughter applied for a study-abroad scholarship aimed at Japanese high school graduates. The Japan-based organization behind the scholarship, the Grew-Bancroft Foundation, offers young Japanese the chance to study at liberal arts colleges in the United States. HM writes:
My daughter, who has Japanese nationality and a foreign family name, applied for this scholarship last autumn. However, only two business days after her application was received, a rejection letter was mailed out, and the ¥20,000 application fee was kept. Perhaps I’m just a protective parent, but are dual-national Japanese students eligible for the Grew-Bancroft scholarship? If so, has a dual national ever been awarded one?
“Protective parent” or not, those raising bicultural children in Japan will probably understand where HM is coming from. In some municipalities, having a non-Japanese parent disqualifies students from participating in English speech contests, irrespective of the fact that many such children have been wholly educated in the Japanese system and have never lived abroad. And the decision last year to crown Ariana Miyamoto, a biracial woman from Nagasaki, as Miss Universe Japan caused a backlash on social media, where some people questioned if a so-called hāfu could really be said to represent Japan.
In the case of the Grew-Bancroft Foundation’s scholarships, however, this concerned father can rest assured that having dual nationality and/or a foreign name has no bearing on the selection process.
“With regards to this issue, the only requirement for eligibility is Japanese nationality, as stipulated on the website,” says the foundation’s director. “We have had dual nationals among the previous winners.”
The director noted that the scholarships have been growing in popularity recently, with both numbers of applicants and scholarships awarded on the rise.
“Last year we saw a record 76 applications. Although we would very much like to award every applicant a scholarship, we must have some kind of screening criteria. Around one-third of the initial applications were selected to go on to the next stage, and from those we chose the final recipients.”
To date, around 130 Japanese students have benefited from the scholarships. In a joint Japan-U.S. statement released at the time of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Japan in April 2014, the Grew-Bancroft Foundation was recognized as “one of the nongovernmental programs indispensable for promoting people-to-people connections between the two countries.”
For more information on the scholarships and how to apply, visit the foundation’s home page (in English and Japanese) at www.grew-bancroft.or.jp/english/index.html#mission.
Kiwi Louise George Kittaka has been based in Japan since she was 20. In the ensuing years she has survived PTA duty for three kids in the Japanese education system and singing live on national TV for NHK’s “Nodo Jiman” show, among other things. Send your comments and questions to email@example.com
As posted this time last week, our Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, is at present in Hiroshima, Japan, the city remembered by all but me for other reasons. In my case it is the city in the world that has the greatest resonance in my heart because my son is there, abducted from his father. That much at least I know.
I have not heard from the Foreign Office in response to my email as reproduced in the post of a week back. Nor was there a response to an earlier email to the Foreign Office – covering similar ground – as far back as 16 August 2014.
The news reports of Mr Hammond’s visit to Japan stress the importance given to security issues. No one would seek to detract from that. But I struggle to understand why – as I fear must be the case – Mr Hammond and his officials, even without sight of my email, failed to free up a few moments with the Japanese Foreign Minister to raise the issue of pre-Convention cases of international child abduction. That is something that should be one of the very few issues of real contention between the UK and Japan, two countries that for a long time have enjoyed a good relationship. The current UK guidance on parental child abduction to Japan recognises the problem but has nothing to say about the resolution of it. The guidance simply states that:
The Hague Convention cannot be used retrospectively. If children were taken to Japan before 1 April 2014, left behind parents will be unable to use the UK Convention to return their children to the UK.
So what is the Foreign Office’s answer to this statement of the obvious? And why was nothing apparently said at this meeting?
The G7/G8 meeting of Foreign Ministers in Hiroshima today – Mr Hammond is sat to the immediate left of US Secretary of State Kerry; source: Mr Hammond’s Twitter account
Mr Hammond meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Mr Fumio Kishida; again taken from Mr Hammond’s Twitter account