Setting the Record Straight: State-Sanctioned Child Abduction Under American and Japanese Auspices

Fighting misinformation on the terrain of news reporting is a never-ending and seemingly petty struggle that brings little to no satisfaction. The gross injustice of Japanese state-sanctioned child abduction with full U.S. State Department support remains unchanged since I first became aware of the issue in 2010, the year that my 4 1/2 -year-old son Rui was abducted to Japan by his mother, Machiko Terauchi. This is despite all of the events that have taken place: International Demarches, meetings in Washington DC and Tokyo, lawsuits, street protests, hunger strikes, conference talks in Geneva, in New York, and around the world. Despite the films, videos and articles published in commercial magazines and online fora, the U.S. protection of Japanese child abduction has been a safety blanket that has helped to ensure that Japan has taken no meaningful action to reform the legal form, court practices, and tactical shadow plays that it uses to see the abductions continue and keep our youths out of reach.

Still, it’s an occasional necessity of conscience and public performance to offer correctives to what little is published online or in older forms of news reporting to keep the coals hot and the flames occasionally burning around the ceaseless regimen of Japanese parental abduction of children.

Here is an October 2022 story from the old U.S. military newspaper, Stars And Stripes, still in production and one of the few locations from which something is occasionally related regarding ongoing, unchanged Japanese abductions of children and removal of parent-child relationships. It seems that in a collapsing world system, the capacity to focus a fraction of diffused public attention on this profound violation of human dignity and respect for humane standards still – but barely – exists.

I find it difficult if not impossible to read the kind of reporting that is done on our struggle; it by-and-large fails to question the nature, purpose and origin of Japan’s abusive family legal practice and the significant U.S. role in propping it up and protecting it from the challenges and objections of its victims. But I ran across this piece on the American Thanksgiving Day in November 2022, and have decided to post it here with both gratitude for its appearance amidst a sea of silence and overwhelming indifference among a harried and depressed public in the era of pandemic, climate collapse, massive global displacements and migrations, and the assorted strings of sustained victories of anti-democracy, with my small contributions to exposing the elements of the misreading of the actual situation placed in brackets and bold letters like these [ ] throughout. It’s a quick job, but one I hope adds at least a bit of noise and friction to an altogether much too smoothly-run machine of Japanese and American-sponsored assaults on parents and kids.

The Stars and Stripes piece begins here:


Japan’s acceptance of child abduction treaty leaves pre-Hague parents in limbo


STARS AND STRIPES • October 19, 2022

In the 10 years since Donny Conway’s daughters Christina and Chihiro were taken by their Japanese mother to her home country without his consent, he has kept their bedroom in his California home filled with unopened Christmas presents, handwritten notes and reams of legal documents, he said.

The former Navy petty officer second class is one of hundreds of American parents whose children were abducted by a Japanese parent and taken to Japan before April 2014, when it ratified the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Parents whose children were abducted to Japan after the agreement was signed may finally be starting to see some minimal progress in seeking their return, but others, like Conway, remain forgotten.

BP: [Hundreds of children abducted prior to the agreement’s signing were knowingly abandoned by U.S. State Department authorities from the outset of negotiations regarding the signing. This was a price that U.S. officials were more than willing to pay over the vociferous objections of parents in order to set the weak, international-law treaty ostensibly commiting the parties to a path against abduction into place in order to ease the issue back out of the public eye to the benefit of U.S. and Japanese corporate and military interests.]

“There’s only so much you can achieve when it’s pretty much just sanctioned abduction,” he told Stars and Stripes in a series of interviews in September and October. “The numbers aren’t high enough for people to care.”

BP:[Actually the numbers are staggeringly high if you take into account the free reign that the U.S.’ Japanese Client State has been given to make alienation and abduction a readily-available means to achieving permanent physical possession of children and wreckage of familial relationships over the decades of state-sanctioned practice. More broadly, acquisition and accumulation by dispossession is a time-tested practice and affirmative principle for both Japanese and American practitioners, consistent with the imperial, colonial and expansionist histories of both national states which continue unabated right down to the present. Witness the decades-long, ongoing fight of Okinawan and Japanese people against the expansion of the permanent U.S. military presence, or the half-million migrants ruthlessly held in American border prisons in the Trump years, peaking in the period of COVID pandemic.]

Japan is known as a “black hole” for parental child abduction, said Jeffery Morehouse, father to an abducted son, Atomu, and founder of Bring Abducted Children Home, a U.S.-based nonprofit. Prior to April 1, 2014, if a Japanese parent living in the United States returned with their child to Japan, there was very little chance the child would be returned, or that the other parent would even be granted visitation, Morehouse said.

Between 1994 and 2014, when the State Department established the Office of Children’s Issues, 416 children were abducted by parents from the U.S. to Japan, according to Bring Abducted Children Home’s website, citing State Department data.

‘Civil legal remedy’

Japan’s western allies began pressuring it to join the treaty in this period, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said by phone during the first in a series of interviews beginning Sept. 20. The spokesman declined to say when the first overtures were made.

BP: [However the treaty in whose drafting both the United States and Japan participated has existed since 1980. It’s clear that Japan was given a dispensation from then American-dominated international organizations to continue to make abduction a principal means of dispossession and violation of children’s autonomy and relationships with their families throughout the period that has elapsed since the treaty’s principles were formalized and written. Abductions increased and the method thrived for 35 years, with no sanction ever applied to the Japanese Client State.]

The Hague Convention provides a “civil legal remedy” for the return of children who are unjustly removed or “retained outside their country of habitual residence” in another signatory country, the U.S. Embassy in Japan website says. The treaty also provides a framework to “protect legal rights of access and visitation.”

BP: [It contains these provisions, but does not guarantee in any way that its principles will be observed in practice. Japan has made frequent use of the treaty’s provisions to fight back against abductions of its children to national territories abroad; but it has never allowed the Convention to be used to successfully restore the rights of any children kidnapped by Japanese nationals. The U.S. government enjoys the advantages the treaty contributes to its position in East Asia: an appearance of legality and rational, institutionally-managed relations. However no actual practices exist by which crimes committed by U.S. soldiers or officials there are regularly sanctioned, despite the occurrence of occasional procedures and punishment following police involvement. The existence of treaties such as the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction provides a useful ideological cover for the mistreatment and suspension of rights on both sides of the U.S.-Japanese borders.]

Parents like Conway were not afforded the benefits of the Hague Convention because their cases occurred prior to Japan joining the Hague Convention, Morehouse said. [NB: This is true of Brian Prager, the author of this blog, and his son Rui as well.]

Conway, like the other pre-Hague parents, was able to apply for access to his children through the Hague Convention, Conway said. The State Department facilitated [italics mine] his application with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs but did little else, he added. BP: [The applications were allowed delivery through the Convention’s provisions; however Japanese law did not require that any improvement or remedy be provided for the parents and abducted children. The delivery of documents is thereby easily seen as having a kind of demonstration-effect, exclusively. No children were given access to their parents as a result of these weak, legalistic formalities. And no parent-child relations were restored as a result of the treaty’s adoption. The U.S. State Department knew very well in advance that this would be the case, and proceeded on the path to the formal recognition and sanctioning of the abductions anyway. U.S. Ambassador for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell explained this clearly to parents of American children abducted by Japan in a board room-styled, private conference I attended at the U.S. Department of State main headquarters in Washington, D.C. in 2011.]

A State Department spokesman declined to comment on the record for this story.

If an application is accepted, the government of Japan connects both parents with an outside mediator and local attorneys, but their involvement stops there, the ministry spokesman said. BP: [Attorneys in Japan in fact are entirely free to ignore the offers and proposals of remedies offered by parents for the restoration of their parent child relationships; and so, they do. The law does provide incentives for attorneys to seek monetary benefits from both parents however; another motive for them to engage in the field exclusively in their self-interest, entirely ignoring the well-being and interests of the children and parents involved.]

Conway was granted Hague access by the ministry on April 21, 2015, he said. He hired a Japanese attorney and traveled to Japan, hoping to at least be able to talk to or see his daughters.

He presented the document from the ministry at city hall in Ebina and Zama in Kanagawa prefecture. To his chagrin, they called his ex-wife, Yumika Arima, and asked her if she would provide access to the children, Conway said. She said no.


Conway’s case is typical, said attorney Jeremy Morley, an expert in international family law based in New York City. “All of those left-behind parents … are stuck without a remedy, and the Hague Convention has no relevance to their circumstances,” he said.

Morley said their only potential path is through Japanese civil law, but he called that route “totally minimal and meaningless.” Visitation orders are “essentially unenforceable,” he said.

The ministry spokesman admitted as much. “We do our best to realize the visitation or contact, but we don’t have enforceability,” the ministry spokesman said. (It’s customary in Japan for some government spokespeople to speak to the media on condition of anonymity.) 

Conway doesn’t know if the girls would choose an American or Japanese life, but he just wants them to know they were abducted, that they have bank accounts in America, resources and a father who never stopped looking for them, he said.

BP: [From the evidence of these quotations from Conway, provided in the heavily-edited Stars and Stripes article, his case indeed appears as one in which the U.S. and Japanese officials achieved their aims perfectly: His children are, according to the report here, inaccessible to him; and he is left as are all parents of the thousands of abducted children that populate Japan’s territories with a full defeat; a rout with no legal means of resistance to Japanese abduction, and the lowest possible expectations that his and our children can or will ever be allowed to know that we, their parents and families, exist – and that we fought for their rights and ours to love and raise them only to be met with the brick wall erected by the U.S.-Japanese regime of state-sanctioned abduction with no hope of a remedy or of justice to be served on the perpetrators of our children’s abducitons.]


Surrounding my bracketed additions, the original Stars and Stripes piece as published was written by the following writers:

Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and MarineCorps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times, and other publications.

Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

After the Abduction: 
Rui at Akiko's Wedding in Tokyo
After the Abduction:
Rui at Akiko’s Wedding in Tokyo
(Akiko, a former colleague of Machiko’s at Steady Study (Tokyo-based Fashion PR Firm) and former English student of mine at Hunter College, CUNY, sometimes worked as a nanny to Rui in New York.
Later, Akiko participated along with many others in maintaining “the cone of silence” surrounding Rui’s abduction in the interest of protecting the perpetrators and seeing the crime through to completion.)

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