From the Shadows Documentary Reflects Sad Reality of Government Sponsored Child Abduction in Japan


If you are like most people, the mention of Japan likely conjures up images of things like sushi, sakura (cherry blossoms) and samurai.

Unfortunately, for any parent with a failed marriage to a Japanese national, the first thing that generally comes to mind is child abduction. Because in Japan, there is no joint-custody, nor even enforceable visitation, and child abduction is the de facto method of deciding custody: Attorneys recommend it, police ignore it, and courts rubber-stamp it.

As awareness of this has spread, largely due to the increase in international marriages, Japan getting an increasing negative international reputation. Earning labels like “haven for parental abduction” and “black hole for child abduction”.

On the international stage Japan has tried to defend the practice of child abduction by claiming that it is protecting Japanese mothers from abusive foreign husbands. But this is a disingenuous defense. Just ask some of the mothers who have had their children abducted by Japanese husbands:

Masako AKEO: herself a Japanese national, who was living in Canada with her Japanese husband when he abducted their son back to Japan. Masako now works to lobby Japanese politicians and aid other parents in organizing. Francesca Torres: who’s son was abducted in 2006 by her Japanese husband’s family while she was at work. Regan Haight: An American mother who’s Japanese husband abducted their two children to Japan - only to then have the children subsequently abducted by the husband’s mother. Regan, quickly learning the futility of the Japanese system, hired a former commando who specialized in “child recovery” to accompany her to Japan.

Regan’s story is one of those featured in a forthcoming documentary: From the Shadows

Her story was also part of a highly recommended Australian News Special, Sayonara Baby:


*note: Spenser has passed away since the release of this special. But not before changing thousands of lives.

The simple truth is that Japan protects abductors. Children are effectively treated as property, where possession is ten-tenths of the law. Parents have literally taken to marching in the streets of Tokyo, and other major cities, begging for a change to the archaic system.

Also, in Japan’s fault-based divorce system any litigated divorce must be approved by the court and blame must be assigned. As there are essentially no standards of proof required and virtually anything can be labeled “DV.”

Professor Colin PA Jones, a westerner who teaches at Doshisha University’s School of Law, explained the situation in Japan as, “when we talk about family law in Japan today, it’s a slight exaggeration but there really isn’t any. There is no body of law called family law... Basically anything can be abuse. Verbal abuse is covered; financial abuse. I’ve seen literature which includes ignoring someone as a form of abuse.”

There is even a case where a Japanese court accepted the claim of a husband not sharing pudding as a form of domestic violence. They further used this as justification for the wife to deny visitation access to the children.

In a 2009 article (English Version) for Jiy? to Seigi, the publication of the Japanese Federation of Bar Associates, Professor Takao TANASEuses data from 2008 to demonstrate the severity of the broken Japanese system:

"Disputes over visitation are dramatically increasing in Japan. The number of cases has almost quadrupled over the last ten years, from 1,700 mediated divorce cases and 290 judicial divorce cases in 1998, to 6,260 mediated divorce cases and 1,000 judicial divorce cases in 2008. These disputes are never easy to resolve, and out of a combined 7,100 conciliation and judicial divorce cases that have been resolved, less than 49% resulted in any kind of visitation award. Only half of these decisions resulted in visitation one or more days every month, and only 15% allowed overnight stays. Furthermore, it is common for the parties not to honor their agreements even when the parties agree, and issues of visitation remain to the end, even in cases that have reached family court, becoming cases that 'cannot be cleanly resolved.'

Over 251,000 married couples separated in 2008, and if this number is divided by the 726,000 marriages in the same year, roughly one out of every 2.9 marriages will end in divorce. Out of all divorcing couples, 144,000 have children, equaling about 245,000 children in all. Seeing as roughly 1.09 million children were born this year, about one out of every 4.5 children will experience divorce before reaching adulthood. Even with the increase in visitation awards, only about 2.6% of the 245,000 children affected by divorce will be allowed visitation."

Be aware that "mediation" in Japan is probably not what you imagine. However, it is probably best described by Navy Captain, Paul Toland during his 2009 testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Be aware that "mediation" in Japan is probably not what you imagine. However, it is probably best described by Navy Captain, Paul Toland during his 2009 testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives:

As Japan’s broken system continues to impact more and more foreigners, awareness and condemnation is slowing building:

In 2010, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1326: Calling on the Government of Japan to immediately address the growing problem of abduction to and retention of United States citizen minor children in Japan, to work closely with the government of the United States to return these children to their custodial parent or to the original jurisdiction for a custody determination in the United States, to provide left-behind parents immediate access to their children, and to adopt without delay the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

Also in 2010, Ambassadors from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, and the Head of the Delegation of the European Union to Japan joined forces to make a formal plea to Japan. Several joined forces again in 2011 to repeat the plea.

Currently the Senate is reviewing SR 543, a bipartisan resolution with 27 current cosponsors, which addresses International Child Abduction. Japan is repeatedly highlighted as a top offender and a country which ignores U.S. court orders. (note: it if you would like to assist, please feel free to contact your Senators and ask them to support the resolution)

California just passed new legislation on child abduction prevention, SB1206 aka "Keisuke's Law."  The law was named for another child abducted to Japan. Here is Keisuke's Father, Randy Collins discussing the bill on the local news:

*note: The Japanese DIET has ended another year's session without having fulfilled their promise to sign the Hague Child Abduction Treaty.

And just this month a ruling by the Washington State Appellate Court set new precedent.  The opinion stated that “Japan did not meet our fundamental principles concerning due process and parental rights.”

But, then again, what one Japanese politician called Japan’s “custom” of abduction, has been violating the country’s international human rights commitments ever since they ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994. The only surprise is that it is taking this long for countries to start calling them out.