Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Parental abduction within and to Japan occurs with some frequency, and has drawn growing political and media attention in recent years. These highly controversial cases involve one parent taking their own child and restricting access to the other “left-behind” parent, often for many years. Even if the child’s whereabouts are clear, Japanese police and law enforcement agents rarely punish the taking parent, or assist in returning the child. In practical terms, any child brought into Japan or moved within Japan can be lost to the parent who doesn’t hold de facto custody, regardless of legal agreements reached in other nations or, to large degree, even legal agreements reached within the Japanese court system itself. Concerning parental abduction, Japanese law enforcement is notably unable or unwilling to provide assistance.
This presentation narrates three cases of parental abduction to analyze the legal, social, and political processes surrounding such contested family mobilities. Told from the point of view of a white American father whose son was taken to Japan, a Chinese-American widower whose daughter was taken by her Japanese grandparents, and a Japanese mother whose children were taken in Japan, the presentation describes the similarities and differences between these recent cases. I challenge the suggestion, often repeated by non-Japanese activists, that Japanese law enforcement’s relative inaction reflects an overall preference for mothers and / or Japanese citizens. Although gender and citizenship certainly matter in these conflicts, this paper makes clear that the lived realities of parental abduction reflect more than a singular preference.