Archive for Japan

Japanese Child Custody

Having lived eight years in Japan (1986-1990 and 1995-1999) I can say it’s the nation I know best outside the US.  The first four years was during the most inflated period of the “financial bubble”.  At the end, fall 1990, a small wastebasket at my neighborhood store cost $32. and a square mile in the downtown area where I worked had more “value” than all the real estate in California or Canada.  The Japanese were “masters of the universe” and acted like it.

Four years later the economy had crashed, I saw my first “dollar stores (100 yen stores locally)” and the folks, especially business executives, were a lot more humble.   Ironically, the yen was about 20% stronger, so it was a lot better for us foreigners living there.  Of course many things remained the same: greater Tokyo still had 32 million people (approximately California’s population in one urban area of only 30 miles radius) and my local train station, Shinjuku, still had eight million bedraggled commuters passing through every weekday.

Of course the essential components of Japanese culture remained the same (most importantly always putting harmony above any possible discord-very important in such a densely packed place), while two post-war trends were becoming more and more clear.  The first was smaller families: prior to the war women were very subservient, had an average of six children and were expected to eat their meals alone in the kitchen; by the 1990’s 1-2 children was the family norm.  The second major trend was a doubling of the divorce rate during that same 50 year period.

The higher divorce rate, along with greater Western influence from the Internet and greatly increased international travel, has begun to put some of Japan’s Confucian traditions under great pressure. The importance of group harmony is perhaps the number one value that Confucius imparted over 2,500 years ago to the Chinese and later was adopted by Koreans and Japanese.  As far as child custody after a divorce, both the Chinese and Japanese have believed that it is better for one parent to have sole custody.  This means that the other parent has no rights of any kind, including even minimal visitation.

The best example of this was Prime Minister Koizumi, who was elected in 2001.  Mr. Koizumi was a major cultural, as well as political phenomenon. He was, if you can imagine, a melding of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.  Koizumi was the most popular post-war prime minister, spoke fluent English (an extremely rare talent for any Japanese politician, especially a prime minister) and, to top it off, was an Elvis fanatic, even to the extent of visiting Graceland with President Bush.

Mr. Koizumi had two sons and was divorced relatively early in his political career. His third son was born a few months after the divorce was final.  The family court judge awarded sole custody of the first two sons to Koizumi (he never remarried and his sister did most of the actual parenting) and sole custody of the third son to his mother.   Neither of the two elder sons had any contact whatsoever with their mother and, of course the third son had no contact with his father.

The link at the top of this articles shows that many Japanese are objecting to the old Confucian-style system of child custody and the probability is that Japan will move slowly toward a more Western style.  For the sake of the future children of Japan, let’s hope it’s more toward the egalitarian Scandinavian style than the adversarial Anglo-Saxon style, which leaves kids in conflict, parents impoverished and lawyers wealthier than ever.





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