Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
Japan is a haven for criminals. Despite being a fairly advanced country in many ways and despite the abhorrent custom of trying to frame crime control as an immigration matter it still has a history of deliberately sheltering international felons. Alberto Fujimori is the outstanding example, but the internationally wanted criminal ex-wife of American Christopher John Savoie of Tennessee, Noriko Savoie, is the perfect example of the most recent case. She represents an entire class of criminal that lives freely here with the children they abduct. I cannot say that Christopher John Savoie is wrong for attempting to reclaim his children in Fukuoka from his estranged Japanese ex-wife (“Arrested dad warned court in U.S. wife was likely to flee,” October 2, 2009). But it’s not a pretty story, and it is an example of the kind of story where the more I know the more I don’t want to know. I know how the Japanese media will spin the tale, but I hope the criminality of the ex-wife/mother is not ignored and can be used to spotlight the 1980 Hague Convention on International Child Abduction which Japan gleefully ignores. Are we to conclude that abduction is only a crime in Japan if the perpetrator is a foreigner? That’s ridiculous, except that Japanese custom sustains the framework for that kind of speculation.
This is an issue that really angers me. It is not a new or recent issue, either, because there are veritable horror stories of other examples that have been going on for years and years. The issue is about the exclusive custody awarded to Japanese mothers of their children in divorces involving foreign husbands - or, Japanese husbands as well, for that matter. But since divorces involving foreign husbands often involve ex-spouses living in far distant countries- countries where dual custody and paternal visitation are well established principles - the matter is especially hairy and painful . When living overseas the wives return to Japan with the children contrary to that country’s court ordered custody and visitation procedures - in effect kidnapping them. Here they are safe from being forcibly returned, and safe from the necessity of allowing paternal visitation. The cultural prejudice is that children “naturally” belong with the mother, and that is how Japanese courts rule on divorce matters involving children.
I don’t think I am in danger of such a predicament in my marriage, but the thought is still there at the back of my mind. Of course, now the children are in their teens. Divorce is maybe harder on younger children. By their teens they are quickly growing in resilience and independence, etc.