During my March trip to Canada with my daughter, Emma, I was traveling without my Japanese wife and second child. It was only a papa/daughter adventure (for money and scheduling reasons). This means that I had to leave Japanand enter Canadawith my child, but without my spouse. What precautions does a parent traveling with an underage child and without a spouse have to take in order to travel internationally? Believe me, precautions are necessary, more in order to smoothly pass through Canadian Customs and Immigration than Japanese Customs and Immigration. It seems that Canadian officials are more suspicious of lone parents traveling with underage children than their Japanese counterparts are.
In Canada, officials are cautious of parents trying to kidnap their own children - divorced parents, or parents involved in a child custody suit, transporting their children across domestic and international boundaries. There are some outstanding horror stories, all anecdotal, of parents trying to travel with a child and without their spouse being detained that made me wary of the situation.
That was not the case with me. I was not kidnapping my daughter, and my wife and I are not divorced or involved in any child custody action. We were innocently going to visit relatives in Canadais all, just the two of us. But in order to smoothly enter CanadaI had to provide documents to prove that our purpose was innocent, and to prove our identities. When I passed through Vancouver Customs in August 2003 I specifically asked the (male) Customs Agent who processed me what documents I needed for my already-planned spring 2004 trip with my daughter, unaccompanied by my Japanese wife. He told me that all I needed was photo identification for my daughter, like a passport. Well, I didn’t believe that, not after all I had heard from others and read about in Canadian newspapers.
Then in November 2003 I telephoned the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo to make the same enquiry: What documents do I need to take with me to enter Canadawith an underage child, unaccompanied by my Japanese spouse, the child’s mother? I was very disappointed when the embassy proved unable to give any hard and definite information. All I was told was that I “might” do this, or I “could” do that, or “maybe” I could do something else. It was ridiculous and unhelpful - not what one expects from an embassy or consulate, but it certainly opens a person’s eyes to the true function and roles of an embassy. Another thing about the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo: all the times I have telephoned there I have never, not once, been able to crack the barrier of the English-speaking Japanese staff in order to get through to an English-speaking Canadian diplomat inside. For regular Joes like me, all information is filtered through the Japanese staff. Even my direct requests to speak to a Canadian go unfulfilled.
So, when we left Japan I took with me as many relevant documents that I could think of and that I could conveniently gather: my daughter’s Japanese and Canadian passports; her Canadian Citizenship Certificate; my province of Ontario marriage certificate; a copy of our Japanese “koseki tohon,’or family register, which acts as a birth certificate for Japanese; a round-trip airline ticket; a valid re-entry permit in my passport (which foreigners need if they leave Japan but plan to return again); plus, letters in English and in Japanese signed by my wife confirming all of the above, explaining that we are married, neither separated nor divorced, that this is our daughter, that she knows I am leaving the country with her on such-and-such a date, on such-and-such an airline, for such-and-such a destination, for such-and-such a purpose with her permission. I considered having the English and Japanese letters notarized - the Embassy can provide, or recommend notary public services - but, again, I decided to forego this step because the embassy’s advice about it was couched in the vague language of “might,” and “could,” and “maybe,” and I planned to use this in my defense if it became an issue standing in front of a Customs Agent in Vancouver airport. Besides, notary public services are expensive, and unless the Canadian Embassy was telling me definitively and authoritatively that that was the thing to do, then I wasn’t in a mood to do it.
Then in the last week before traveling it occurred to me that I might also have trouble exiting Japan with a minor child unaccompanied by a Japanese spouse. In a fluster I hurriedly made phone calls seeking information: the Nakano Ward Office; Tokyo English Lifeline; the Foreign Residents Advisory Council; and, finally, the Tokyo ImmigrationInformation Center(in English). When the time came, I had no trouble whatsoever exiting Japan. The Japanese Customs Agent who perused our passports at passport control only mentioned that Emma’s passport was expiring in May. I said it was okay, because we were only going on a two-week trip.
Then in Canada, entering the country without my spouse also proved surprisingly simple. We approached the agent together, presented our passports, and without delay I preempted any inquiry by him by announcing,
“I’m traveling with my daughter alone, without my wife. Do you need her Canadian passport?”
“If you have it. Do you have a letter from the mother?”
“Welcome to Canada.”