No phone calls, no birthday parties, no taking a trip to the store for an ice cream cone, no parent-child visitation whatsoever. Never. And all without a good-bye hug.
This incomprehensible reality, and the lack of any recourse in the Japanese family court system, has been, until recently, Japan's peculiar and hidden secret. While other nations think such a system is bizarre and even barbaric, in Japan it is normal for the left-behind parent to be completely "cut out'' of a child's life following the breakup of a marriage.
This peculiarity stems from the fact that in Japan 1) parental abduction is not considered to be a crime, and 2) only one parent is given custody following a divorce. Since Japanese police do not get involved in family matters, divorces in Japan routinely start with a proactive and strategic abduction of the children and end with the abductor being awarded sole, permanent custody. In other words, the kidnapper is rewarded for his or her audacity.
In most cases, the Japanese mother pre-emptively commits the first kidnapping, but thousands of fathers have likewise wrested custody from mothers in this same bizarre and devastating manner.
Global community is learning truth at last
With the number of international marriages exploding and the number of international divorces rising right along with it, Japanese peculiarities regarding child custody are affecting thousands of parents from countries other than Japan.
Now, international media outlets are accusing Japan of having "very strange'' divorce and child custody laws, and governments from other nations are asking questions. Japan is floundering for answers.
Japanese left-behind parents have now found themselves arm in arm with a team of unexpected allies: huge numbers of vociferous and outraged non-Japanese parents who are victims of the same injustice. Japan's Alice-in-Wonderland parental "kidnapping culture'' has yielded a legion of foreign parents, American and otherwise, who are victims of the same barbaric Japanese laws and the twisted courts that enforce them.
Now talented and motivated multilingual Japanese mothers and fathers are using social media to connect with worldly, multilingual parents from other countries.
Hundreds of tweets, blogs and Facebook messages are being posted hourly — in French, Spanish, English and Japanese — all strategizing to push the Japanese government to change its draconian domestic laws and to allow parental visitation, recognize joint custody as a natural right of the parent and the child, and to put an end to the all-too-common scourge of parental kidnapping of children.
For too long, the pain of the Japanese left-behind parents has been ignored by their government. They were told to get over it. This is Japanese culture. Move on. Forget about your kids.
Now, at long last, these heartbroken mothers and fathers are not only benefiting from the camaraderie and validation of foreign parents who understand their unique plight, they are basking in the sympathy of these foreign parents — sympathy that their own government has never given to them.
Amy J. Savoie is a second-year law student at the Nashville School of Law and contributing member to BAC Home.