Archive for September 2012


27 September 2012

Since the 1970s, several Japanese citizens have been kidnapped by North Korea in a bizarre attempt to help North Korean secret agents learn the Japanese language from native speakers. (Much about North Korea sounds absurd, but tragically this is true.)

Japan wants these citizens repatriated of course and it wants diplomatic support from other countries for this. I’m sure the issue is somewhere on the agenda whenever there is a six-country round of talks involving North Korea.

But Japanese people kidnap each other’s children all the time when divorcing because shared custody rights don’t exist in Japan. Worse, when a Japanese has children with a non-Japanese and joint custody is awarded abroad (or even when sole custody is awarded to the non-Japanese parent) and the Japanese parent abducts the children and brings them to Japan, Japanese authorities will never enforce the non-Japanese parent’s custody rights.

I won’t be so obtuse as to say both situations are identical: Japanese abductors of their children after all start with some parental rights.  Nevertheless, the North Korean and Japanese abduction issues are sufficiently similar to warrant us accusing Japan of outright hypocrisy when it asks other countries to support its position vis-à-vis North Korea.

Two kidnappers, each supported by the laws of his country.

I will not minimize the tragedy suffered by victims such as Megumi Yokota and her parents. The parents have every right to petition their government for support and the Japanese government has a duty to give them that support. But the government of Japan should see the similarities and work towards fixing its own kidnapping problem as well.

This is difficult when lawmakers such as Jun’ichiro Koizumi, the former and unusually popular prime-minister pictured at left above, took sole custody of his two elder children when he divorced his wife in the 1980s. It’s ironical that he was the one who broke through the diplomatic impasse and negotiated the return of some Japanese directly with the late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (at right). But I’m sure the irony is lost on him…


Get a prenup!

22 September 2012

OK, you might actually like your Japanese boyfriend or girlfriend and you might not want to dump them.

But given that divorce is on the rise in Japan and elsewhere, it’s common sense to protect yourself. Never mind assets and what not. What’s a few bucks here and there? If that were all that was at stake, the protection of a pre-nuptial agreement would not make up for the ill-will it would cause.

But sometimes there’s more than money involved, sometimes there are children. In that case, before you get married, you should prepare for a divorce. Why? Because custody law in Japan is not reasonable. In fact it’s insane, so a pre-nuptial agreement is essential to ensure that in the event of  a divorce, both parents have access to the children. But there is a serious snag: Japanese law does not recognize agreements mentioning child custody, therefore the agreement must be about other aspects, e.g. assets, and contingent on other situations (e.g. who moved out first).

In the case of a Japanese/non Japanese couple, you absolutely need expert help in drafting a pre-nup. Foreign law offices in Japan, such as Langley Esquire, have exactly the expertise required. I don’t want to appear to be endorsing any particular lawyer or law office, so you should ask your embassy for a list of lawyers.

I do have a few caveats however. Make sure you are comfortable with your lawyer. The first lawyer I saw was terrible. She was Japanese and very experienced but she kept telling me what to do, she was being patronizing, and the feeling I got was that she sided with my ex-wife! Without over-generalizing, Japanese lawyers (and doctors and teachers) all assume the mantle of authority and they tell their clients what to do. In the Western world, our attitude is that doctors and lawyers are expensive expert consultants who explain what options are available and what their consequences are, and who then leave the actual decision up to their clients. Either get a foreign lawyer working in Japan, or a Japanese lawyer working in your home country. But get a lawyer who understands Japanese family law.

It’ll be expensive. Each case is different, each pre-nup must be custom tailored for each couple, and there are no one-size-fits-all templates. But it’s worth it.

Dump your Japanese girlfriend or boyfriend now!

14 September 2012

I really feel bad about posting something like this. I’ve lived 23 years in Japan and I love the place. I have many Japanese friends, male and female. How could I tell my friends Jane and Peter to dump Takeshi and Kyoko? (Not anyone’s real name.) But I am telling them this, and I am NOT being racist. The considerations are purely legal.

Let me be clear: if your girlfriend or boyfriend is a Japanese citizen and you are in a heterosexual relationship with them, and you are of child bearing age, then think seriously about dumping them right away.

As a Japanese citizen, your partner has the legal right to kidnap your child if the relationship between the two of you sours.  Their Japanese family will almost always support them and do everything to keep you from seeing your child again.

The above does not apply to non-Japanese citizens of Japanese descent. You are fine with an American or Canadian or Peruvian partner whose grandparents or greatparents were Japanese.

If you do decide to hitch up, then insist on signing a prenup. Consult a foreign lawyer practicing in Japan. Ask your embassy for a list.  Take care though: the prenup cannot in any way mention custody. A good lawyer will be clever.

If you think that breaking up is hard to do, just imagine how much worse it is to go though the loss of a child…

My daughter’s family registry (her honseki) – 平澤えみりの本籍

6 September 2012

There is a silly excuse the Japanese government gives all the time for not allowing or enforcing child visitation rights. Under current family law it is not possible to register a child on two  family registries. While married, the two spouses are on the same family registry of course, and so are their children. After a divorce, one spouse is removed from the registry (though records remain of having been on the registry) and enters a different family registry (his or her own). The children go on one and only one of the two registries, therefore only one parent has custody. It’s an all or nothing game.

This is the family registry of my daughter Emilie. It’s actually my ex-wife Shijima Hirasawa’s (平澤しじま) registry. It’s in Japanese but it contains details of her date and place birth, the date she registered her first marriage (to an American) , the date of her divorce from her first husband, the date of her marriage to me, and the date of our daughter’s birth. This copy was made before we divorced so the date of our divorce isn’t there.

Of course, I completely agree there are administrative headaches to creating a fair custody system where both parents have rights to raising their child. But who cares? Civil servants are there to serve! Let them serve and let there be headaches. The plain fact of the matter is the paternalistic family courts simply don’t want to change and would prefer people did what they told them to do.

Japanese bureaucrats are experts and dragging their feet.

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