“Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.”
-Jean Jacques Rousseau (The Social Contract)
“Some people are beginning to catch on; they will no longer take banging for music.”
– Denis Diderot (Rameau’s Nephew)
There is now more than ever a need to renew our efforts to create a movement here to reunite children and parents, and to oppose state-supported, state-sanctioned Japanese International Parental Child Abduction (JIPCA). Two and a half years after Rui’s abduction, children and parents have none of the protections they need today, and the Japanese government has made zero progress towards addressing the issue; the result is the continuation of cross-border and internal parental abductions in Japan.
Every week on the mailing lists of Japan-focused, left-behind parent groups, I see another newly uninitiated parent lamenting his or her fear of the now-present threat of parental abduction and wondering what if any recourse he or she has. This should be a matter of worldwide public concern, a problem in international relations with a “friendly” State that harbors and rewards child abductors from without and within the country with the termination of the child’s and the other parents’ familial rights – at an estimated rate of 150,000 children per year. Any person with a Japanese spouse at one or another time of conflict finds him or herself having to weigh the probability of whether his or her spouse will discover and act on the power that the Japanese state provides to prevent him or her from ever seeing his child again. Virtually anyone with a whimsical resentment of a husband or wife (-and what married person has never felt any resentment?-) and a bit of determination to separate his or her life from his or her spouse can construct an abduction of his or her child in this way. A brief search of the internet provides the tools to carry it out. One only needs to find the resources, or to get a child behind the Japanese border where the parent can be provided with them by a state official, legal professional, or family court judge who has them to give.
Japan’s government, via its Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Justice, via its news media, even via its universities, puts many agents into the field to offer the world misinformation and deception about the scale, frequency and impact of this mass human rights violation, undoubtedly because it is a widespread but disavowed phenomenon within Japan. The numbers continue to be staggering: between 2 1/2 and 3 million Japanese minors have no meaningful access to one of their parents because of Japan’s winner-take-all custody rules and the self-interested, jealous bigotry of its courts. The maintenance of this system has depended for its survival on relative invisibility to the world at large, and suppression of discussion of the issue to the Japanese public itself. Silence reinforced with shame weighs on the parents of abducted children. To speak out is frowned upon and suppressed, and brings more shame on the complaining victims than on the perpetrators, who have the family judiciary, Diet members, and members of the Japanese academic and legal professions for allies. They also have the cooperation of numerous governments and international agencies that are beholden to Japanese financial interests to keep them afloat. This applies to the United Nations, United States, members of the European Union and countless others. It seems the price of complicity in the abuse of children and families is not so high that it can’t be paid.
Stop Being Quiet
One of the primary communication goals we take on as parents and activists is to bring this silence to an end. Not until victims speak up loudly and in greater numbers can the key shift in awareness take place, from regarding parental abduction as a “normal social custom”, to a criminal activity that is brutally detrimental to children and adults, with wide-ranging psychological and social-institutional ill effects.
Speaking up has always been transformative, as it is for us. It turns victims of crime into agents of change.
There are precedents. An obvious parallel to this internalized silence about a criminal enterprise in modern Japanese history that is still fraught with political danger and controversy is the Japanese military’s use of mass rape as a weapon of war during the attacks on Japan’s Asian neighbors throughout the era of the 2nd World War. For decades, this internationally well-known decade-long regime of war crimes could scarcely be discussed within Japan – and even today it is best known euphemistically as the “comfort system” that brought “comfort” to Japanese soldiers in the field, engaged in a brutal war against China, with the Korean people its unwilling subjects. That women from China, Korea and Japan were pressed into sexual slavery – euphemistically called “service” – and turned into prisoners of rape camps was not widely condemned as a crime until the surviving victims themselves were able to gather the courage given to them by the solidarity of the Korean feminist movement to testify publicly in the face of pressure to keep silent. It has not been a smooth process for them. Japanese officials and conservative ideologues fought against them by claiming that the women were “prostitutes” – in order to place them into a category that would taint their testimony as that of undeserving women whose deficient “purity and credibility” cast doubt over the reliability of their stories. It’s easy to see how tradition can be brought to bear on popular sentiments in an extraordinary case like this. A rich legacy of patriarchal relations were brought to bear in defense of the conduct of war, conquest, domination, terror and pacification. Patriarchal power relations are in play again now, protecting Japanese officials in today’s disputes over nuclear power and the collusive co-responsibility of private enterprises and government regulators for the consequences of the nuclear radiation disaster that followed the earthquake and tsunami of March, 2011. That the United States and its military’s continuing expectation of a monopoly on nuclear capability plays a super-ordinate role adds a layer of patronage, protection and justification to this disastrous arrangement. We have to intensify our efforts and speak out against our government for this exchange of courtesies.
Our obligation to care for our children is not blunted by the prolonged pain we are still suffering today. We are faced with endless delays, foot-dragging, resistance and inactivity on the part of the U.S. and Japanese governments. And we have got to push back in order to restore the dwindling hopes of our destiny, which is to reunite with our children.
Social Ills – Social Roots
A recognition that this problem is shared, and is social and political in origin and nature, is still lacking potency among the community of left-behind parents. It requires a solution based on group interest – shared and social- even though the groups are large ones: divorced or divorcing Japanese, non-Japanese, parents, and children. As parents and active members of a community of persons whose lives intersect on the basis of international and court-derived child abduction and termination of parental rights, we have an obligation to provide renewal which may only come from a refreshed and revised look at the issue. When my son, Rui, was first captured, withheld and hidden from me in Japan, fellow sufferers – parents who lost their children to Japan – warned that the abduction would challenge all of my beliefs. That has turned out to be maximally true for me. The psychological trauma of child abduction morphs into physiological symptoms and pain many a parent has had to run from. It interminably wrenches our insides, alters the nervous system, and wears the parent down until it bleeds us white . But eventually, we have to either die or regather ourselves to counteract the anemia. I think it’s time now – time for us to ask each other whether or not we know what there is left for us to do.
Reframe the Issue
We can do a lot. Breathing life back into the conversation requires us to listen and study, and successfully reframe the genealogy of the issue. The ever-rising rate of international abductions is a symptomal reaction to many, various stimuli. It’s not enough to say that it is related to a poorly-defined, hysteria-driven “crisis of family” – a known political and social current (or subcurrent) that has played since well before our time. It’s not only a crisis of belief, or faith, or the breakdown of traditional bonds; nor is it comprehensible as exclusively a problem of inadequate law. To look upon the abductions as the actions of sociopaths is inadequate too, even though they often may be. The abductions haven’t multiplied solely on the basis of one group of parents’ increased privileges over and against those of another; the ownership and low regard of the needs of children has a much longer history. Neither is it the rise of a more brutal family, nor an increase in the reporting of domestic brutality alone that is fueling the rate of increase of parental abductions. Just as surely as there are no innocent abusers of children or spouses, there is no need either to project the distinction of ideal “undeserving” victims from “deserving” ones. The problems of family, marriage, relationship, and of legal guarantees that protect children and parents from violence and alienation of parent-child bonds will not be reduced to one cause, nor resolved by one solution; nor should larger economic and military realities in the foreground of the relationships between countries be ignored, or provide absolution.
Family crisis. Loss of faith. Loss of bonds. Inadequate law. Sociopathy. Identity politics. Civil Rights. Gender equality. Childism. Child abuse. Domestic violence. The deserving and undeserving. This post I’m writing today is only a scratch on the surface; but I believe that we can sort out an approach to greater insight into what this madness, Japanese parental abduction, is derived from. Every day that I’m able to sit up straight and think, I recognize that we, parents of abducted kids, are now forced to become anthropologists, historians, psychologists, sociologists, activists, diplomats, lobbyists, lawyers, social workers, moral philosophers, and public relations agents. The ability and willingness of third parties to minister to abductors or turn their heads and ignore parents and children are profound; indifference and corruption are bred into the institutions.
But fear is also a great enabler. Governments of countries, municipalities, foreign affairs bureaus, ministries of justice and police forces, whose actions determine the conditions of the development of the problem are dramatically inhibited by saber-rattling nationalists in Japan (and its neighbors), think tank “security” policy analysts from Washington who dominate diplomatic agendas, and self-interested bureaucrats with career paths to protect. None can be excluded; all should be considered part of what has gone wrong.
The denial of dignity to children, the refusal to protect women and men from real, authentic domestic brutality, and the rigid roles and loss of family intimacy that are forced on working people all disrupt familial, community and human solidarity, and provide the roots from which the inspiration to commit parental abductions spring. They are problems of modernity, of industrial society, of non-democratic economies, of unequal distributions of power, and of manipulated feelings of men and women who have no other outlet for their pain than to afflict one another. These issues might seem less daunting to address in a materially prosperous Japan than they would have been in the conditions of, say, the impoverished outposts of empire. Yet today, Japan shares a rate of parental abduction that exceeds that of all the rest of developed world, and victimizes the totally innocent – parents and children who love one another.
Today, liberal rhetorics are employed to achieve illiberal aims. Social and judicial concepts that were created to work to benefit and protect families from gendered violence are turned into weapons of the same. We must organize ourselves again, and renew our efforts to overthrow tyranny visited on children. Keep your eyes wide; the chance won’t come again.
We can take inspiration from many sources. Among them, Darwin saw life as an increasingly complex emergence from earlier forms, and the outcome of an environment that throbs with impulses of attraction to maximally differentiate individuals and species. I think he knew that the production of difference is relentless. Our job as living beings is not to denigrate nor merely tolerate this differentiation, but to learn to be amazed by the changes as they flower. The family form is changing under tremendous pressure. It is our job as adults to see that children’s need for the love and care of their families are met all the same.
“… before you can say Jack Robinson, there’s the idol, flat on his back!”
– Denis Diderot, Rameau’s Nephew
4 thoughts on “Banging For Music”
Hi Brian! In your long article you mention that we all have to be “anthropologists, historians” in order to understand Japan — and you are correct, I thoroughly believe. Which is why I stick to my points I make above. If you have ever worked for a Japanese company in Japan (as I have — two years at Snakyo pharmaceutical giant; eleven years at Elsevier publishing house — both jobs as only non-Japanese person working in large corporate space with hundreds of Japanese colleagues), you will see unmistakably that corporate “tyranny” in Japan is nothing of the sort. Japanese workplaces are harmonious, long working hours are voluntary, and Japanese workers gladly spend all their daylight hours in their offices and factories. They are in no rush to go home. In my last company, every weekend there were dozens of people doing voluntary overtime on Saturday and Sunday, always with the same explanation: “Now I am very busy!” They weren’t. They just have nothing better to do. Tokyo is simply a vast workplace, devoid of stimulating non-work attractions. Sure, you can go to a park, sure you can join a baseball team (work permitting) — but there is nothing for the mind in Tokyo, no beautiful sights to contemplate, no mysterious places or escapes. Just concrete, neon, shops, and traffic carnage, not to mention the packed trains and overcrowded stations, streets jammed with people, noise…. So Japanese men prefer to work. It’s probably the only place where they can get some peace and quiet. And here is the truth — they are not busy at all. I know, I worked in two Japanese companies and I got far more done than anyone else — and left at 6pm every night. Anyway, back to your own comment. “Anthropologists and historians.” If you care to look at Japanese history, you will see that — nothing happened. Sure, this clan fought with that clan, this daimyo did battle with that daimyo, those samurai beat those samurai in deadly combat. Those are not history, they are wars on a timeline. History is a record of CHANGES — revolutions, inventions, riots, explorations, deeds and contracts, empires and alliances. IDEAS. Japan had none of those. They lived in isolation for centuries — no one was allowed out or in — and kept their traditions going unchanged for centuries. And that is why I say that Japan is female. I mean, that in Japan, women are stronger and more influential than men. That’s my contention and I will argue with any academic, Japanologist, linguist, whatever, that I am right. My case rests on European development following Christianity (male God) and and spread of Greek / Roman influence by Roman empire, followed by Holy Roman empire, Islamic empire, in the region of the earth centered on Europe and the Middle East as far as India, where I contend that male domination took over from more archaic female domination which persisted in untouched parts of the world such as the Pacific and especially the most isolated large nation in all history, Japan — THE last nation to adopt the ways of the western world, only one hundred sixty years ago — five generations at best, or, in my wife’s case, the days of her great grandfather. Not so long ago, really. Brian, if you ar einterested, please read my book “Life And Nihonjin,” available on Amazon / Kindle ($2.99 I think — print version is a bit more expensive) — in there, I argue the above points at length and I hope convincingly. I say to everyone involved in the struggle to have their children who were abducted in Japan back in their lives: “The first rule of war is know thy enemy” — and I have been attempting to understand why my wife took away my children — the arguments we had were trivial and lasted only a short time at the end of our sixteen-year marriage — as well as why my wife was assisted by all those around her, including people dressed up as lawyers, policemen, judges, court officials, and teachers — who yet behaved nothing like I would expect people in those roles to behave — and thus I spent months and months thinking how could that be and the results are my book. Please read it. This struggle needs more people who understand the enemy! Demanding the return of our children or assuming Japanese people understand what we want are blunders that I know will get us nowhere.
Alex – Sorry for not responding sooner. Actually I have read your book, or a good bit of it, right when you had it published. I know that you spent 20 years in Japan, so I can’t compare with your personal experience. I also remember your “Japan is female” post from this year. This is what I can muster in the way of a response.
I am really struggling obsessively to understand why Japanese abduction exists, with the support of the institutions of Japanese life all arrayed behind it. And like all social and psychological facts, I don’t think it’s inexplicable; it’s just not reducible to a single root or one-dimensional explanation. This is at least the beginning point that gets me, or maybe everyone, tongue-twisted in trying to describe it. I don’t think that the mess the judiciary is making today is identical with anything in Japan’s ancient history or an inevitable outgrowth of the cultural past. I would say, rather than “Japan is female” because that sounds too idealized to me, that gender role rigidity is a seriously important aspect of it. But it changes. If anything, women’s identification with “being a wife” was eclipsed in the modern era (early to mid-20th century) by identification with “being a mother.” And these two possibilities sit alongside and overlap many other more contemporary identities as well, with enormous differences in what those terms mean to different classes, inclusive of those with class aspirations. As soon as Japan had a Civil Code, it relegated women to these politically impotent homebound roles right through to the postwar era, but feminists – with righteous good material reasons really fought back against this from 1970 on. What I also see is that, more than in the U.S., the women’s movement and women in general in Japan, clung to an emphasis on women’s “difference” from men, a category of special need and special protection – over the ideal of equality. It’s not hard to imagine that the oppositely positioned conservative establishment agreed with this, with different aims, and have turned to it in trying to put pressure against resistance since backlash really set in.
It’s also quite obvious the role played by pop culture, fashion, and every other agency of gender propaganda. We have a version of that here. And it serves a social and economic outcome, with women having far less social power than men.
It’s strange; but to me, the concepts here that are deeply engrained and passed on, it’s this essentialist view of identity, which is pure ideological fiction: that men are men – and family providers, meant to work, and women are women, mothers in charge of parenting, that genders and national identities (Japaneseness) are innate and immutable. It’s a massive failure of education to not teach that shared concepts like these are constructed, as a result of which, they can be transformed. And the rigid division between them, which so many people actually disavow today even though they still live that way, is a result of the modern, urban, industrial organization of life.
I think something similar is true of the tyrannical workplace discussion we were having. I don’t doubt what you observed that people appear happy working their lives away at a dull job. I believe that this is as you described it. I would also suggest that it involves denying what most know to be true but feel helpless to change; that life as a worker bee is not authentically satisfying.
I hesitate to use her as an example, because she was extreme. But my wife internalized these rigid values and developed contempt for anyone who didn’t share them. She absolutely hated being a working slave. It enraged her; but she did it anyway. Machiko transformed over a two or three year period into someone who was wedded to her work duties to where they had a much firmer grip on her time and priorities than sleep or food. Work duty – including socializing for work- was more inescapably demanding than our son’s wants, or her bodily needs. And oh! Forget about her husband. She repeatedly made her/our material conditions grow to the breaking point, and stretched to increase her level of responsibility for their support, and again, always over my objections, with my son held as blackmail. I now know she cheated the government of taxes; she spent every penny she could and demanded to live in the highest rent district in New York; to eat at the poshest restaurants for herself and her clients; all so that she could be unquestionably distinguished by her dedication to the imperative morality of consuming, spending, and ostensibly enjoying. This was and is her class ambition, a soul-consuming side of herself which she temporarily suppressed and concealed until after we married. I’ve thought that period was one in which she was trying to escape it, as many do, though I can’t be certain.
So – tyranny? I agree with the argument that choices aren’t any freer when they are constrained by market organizations (of work duty, or of femininity) rather than religious and national/ cultural ones. It’s sleight of hand that makes them into “freedom of choice.” It becomes a series of necessities to dress and act a certain way, to smile and say you like it, to return to it on the weekend because there aren’t any other choices. To fail to do these things would have economic and social consequences; sometimes severe ones.
At last, a long piece that describes perfectly what goes on in Japan — including some of the causes and the results that we have seen in so many cases, increasing daily it seems. Solutions? As I have been saying for the last three years almost — only outside pressure can stop this happening in Japan. I like the idea of calling child abduction in Japan “JIPCA.” Give it a name of its own, because child abduction in Japan is way different from that which occurs in other countries. Child abduction in Japan (JIPCA) is NOT conducted by rogue individuals. It is conducted by NORMAL, AVERAGE Japanese women, who are encouraged and surrounded by helpers — the female Japanese who run the country. Think I’m joking? I’m not. I would not joke about the fate of my children. Japanese females influence everything that goes on in Japan. Japanese men are clueless, absolutely weak and powerless little fellows. Japan is ruled by tradition — hundreds of years of never-changing tradition — and that timeline goes all the way back to the stone age. Japan has never changed, and is female. Why is JIPCA unique to Japan and different to parental child abduction elsewhere in the world? As we know, it is endorsed and aided by the Japanese government, the police, family courts, legal system, and attempts to get Japan to update its customs to international norms have all been beaten back — last year’s attempts to get the Hague Convention ratified being an example that must be fresh in people’s minds. I knew they would never sign it. Japan is the country that sends its male workers abroad to work for their company’s overseas offices — and leave their young families behind. Japan is the country that sends its male workers at the Tokyo office to go live and work in the Osaka office — while their families stay at home. Japan is the country that works its male workers to death — called karoushi and not a finger has been lifted to end this practice of WORKING MEN TO DEATH — unthinkable in the modern world but an everyday occurrence in “modern” Japan. Japanese men have NOTHING TO DO WITH RAISING THEIR FAMILIES. They all work till midnight every day of their lives, they never take any holiday or do anything together as a family. I say this to everyone in Japan — look around you, spot the family. Try to find a family with children above the age of ten, a mum, a dad, and children above the age of ten, doing ANYTHING together, anywhere, at any time. You will never see a family all together in Japan. Take this — Japan is the country where every month, in force, a long parade of far-right-wingers come out in black uniforms and ride armored battle buses up and down the main streets of Shibuya (young people) and Marunouchi (government and business), making a deafening din all day long, sometimes for several days in a row, and no one says a word in protest. There is no other country in the developed world where the far right wing cannot appear anywhere in public and not provoke a riot of antagonism. In other words, the far right are perfectly acceptable in Japan, a part of society. Japan watchers, OPEN YOUR EYES! Japan is a primitive nation that has never changed since women breast fed infants round the fire and men went off to fish the waters. Nothing has changed. Only outside pressure influences Japan. I have also called not only for child abduction in Japan (JIPCA) to be considered a special category of this international crime but also for ALL “mixed” (half-Japanese) children living in Japan to be recognized as a special category of vulnerable people — those at risk of child abduction and abuse — just as “foreigners” (gaijin) in Japan can never be naturalized or have civil rights, so must our children be given special resident’s status. This must be made clear to all nations — that until Japan can mature into a society that rejects child abduction as unacceptable, then the country will have to go on a list of undeveloped (mentally) nations that cannot be trusted to protect civilians.
Alex! Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I particularly agree with your first main point that it’s very important to see that child abduction in Japan is not a rogue activity carried out by what within Japanese standards would be socially aberrant people, but a practice that’s normalized by institutional sanctions and encouraged by professionals who profit substantially not only through money, but with status and positional authority; people like lawyers and judges, bureaucrats, and so on.
I’m also in absolute agreement with you that the level of submission to their job postings among Japanese workers is what I call “3-D” (or “the three “D’s”) – a severely dysthymic, dystopian, and dysfunctional form of internalized tyranny that induces barren family life, and is clearly destructive of parent-child bonds, certainly those of men but also of women, who have internalized denial of parental access to their children due to slavish workplace schedule obligations which are trained into them at school, long before any new divorces, custody, or child abductions have been thought of.
What you’ve got here is a working vision of how this plays out; how parental abduction is embedded in many parllel social practices with psychological effects, in other words, in the creation of “subjectivities” that Japanese people walk around with from early childhood, through schooling, and right on into adulthood; and I agree with that. I think the key to understanding how this system has come into being is also to see what sustains it. I’m trying to learn as much as I can about this, and what is and is not analogous to the experiences of people everywhere. I respect your opinion and your experience, but I don’t find as credible the diagnosis of Japan as a society that is “primitive” or that is unchangingly traditional, nor especially one in which Japanese women are inordinately powerful and can exercise power as a group. This is a complex topic that needs time and studying- but for now I’d just say that the family form in Japan, which is falling apart before our eyes, given the well-known themes of aging and low birth-rate; is very much a modern one with roots in the 19th century creation of “ie” or household identification that was seen as an ideal way to break Japanese families away from their historic forms of community in order to create a mobile family more well-suited to the wants and needs of industrial employers, and the development of a market economy – which is to say, capitalism. The patriarchal, patrilineal form of family is also in freefall today, in Japan and everywhere in industrialized countries, where the rates of divorce and multiple marriage are a train rolling downhill that can’t be stopped. What is obviously dysfunctional and beyond pathological is the insistence on all-or-nothing identification of children with one parental family, one “household.” This may indeed be an inheritance of silly, irrelevant “clan” markings with an older, feudal provenance, but I think we’d have to look at the kinds of factors mentioned here and above – workplace tyrrany, legal obligations imposed by courts, etc. to understand why Japanese men thus far have not fought back aggressively to keep their parental rights by sharing them with their wives’ families. The winner take all system there now simply makes bloodthirsty, cruel conflict inevitable. Who would willingly give up their children if it weren’t? If it favors women’s custody today, well that certainly is one way to keep men’s work hours as long as possible, and to keep them from the temptation of resisting the current set up to get home to their kids. Again, there is more to explore in these topics.