From last September to early October, a US media report could have been likely to worsen the relationship between Japan and the United State. Are you surprised at this fact?
The incident reported happened in my home town, Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan.
An American father, Christopher Savoie, found his Japanese ex-wife did not come back from her home town, Yanagawa in Fukuoka, with their two kids.
Christopher said he and his ex-wife, Noriko Savoie, were divorced in Tennessee.
Then the court ruling advised Noriko that she can take her children with her to Japan but she should be cautious about being charged if she does not take them back to the United States.
Nevertheless, she kept staying with her kids in Japan even after finishing school holiday. He thought she kidnapped his children to Japan.
Then he flew there from Tennessee and tried to get them back.
However, he was arrested by police his ex-wife alerted on charge of snatching their children.
CNN Tokyo Correspondent Kyung Lah reported this story as follows:
TOKYO, Japan (CNN) — Had this custody drama played out in the United States, Christopher Savoie might be considered a hero — snatching his two little children back from an ex-wife who defied the law and ran off with them.
But this story unfolds 7,000 miles away in the Japanese city of Fukuoka, where the U.S. legal system holds no sway.
And here, Savoie sits in jail, charged with the abduction of minors. And his Japanese ex-wife — a fugitive in the United States for taking his children from Tennessee — is considered the victim.
“Japan is an important partner and friend of the U.S., but on this issue, our points of view differ,” the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo said Tuesday. “Our two nations approach divorce and child-rearing differently. Parental child abduction is not considered a crime in Japan.”
The story begins in the Nashville suburb of Franklin, Tennessee, with the January divorce of Savoie from his first wife, Noriko, a Japanese native. The ex-wife had agreed to live in Franklin to be close to the children, taking them to Japan for summer vacations.
Savoie in March requested a restraining order to prevent his ex-wife from taking the children to Japan, saying she had threatened to do so, according to court documents obtained by CNN affiliate WTVF and posted on the station’s Web site. A temporary order was issued, but then lifted following a hearing.
“If Mother fails to return to Tennessee [after summer vacation] with the children following her visitation period, she could lose her alimony, child support and education fund, which is added assurance to Father that she is going to return with the children,” Circuit Court Judge James G. Martin III noted in his order on the matter.
After that ruling, Christopher Savoie tried to have Martin recuse himself, as he was a mediator in the case prior to becoming a judge, said Marlene Eskind Moses, Noriko Savoie’s attorney. But that request was denied, as Savoie earlier said he had no concerns about Martin hearing the matter.
Following the summer trip, Noriko Savoie did return to the United States, and Christopher Savoie then took the children on a vacation, returning them to his ex-wife, his attorney, Paul Bruno, told CNN.
But days later, on the first day of classes for 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca, the school called Savoie to say his children hadn’t arrived, Bruno said. Police checked Noriko Savoie’s home and did not find the children.
Concerned, Savoie called his ex-wife’s father in Japan, who told him not to worry.
“I said, ‘What do you mean — don’t worry? They weren’t at school.’ ‘Oh, don’t worry, they are here,’ ” Savoie recounted the conversation to CNN affiliate WTVF earlier this month. “I said, ‘They are what, they are what, they are in Japan?’ ”
The very thing that Savoie had predicted in court papers had happened — his wife had taken their children to Japan and showed no signs of returning, Bruno said.
After Noriko Savoie took the children to Japan, Savoie filed for and received full custody of the children, Bruno said. And Franklin police issued an arrest warrant for his ex-wife, the television station reported.
But there was a major hitch: Japan is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on international child abduction. The international agreement standardizes laws, but only among participating countries.
So while Japanese civil law stresses that courts resolve custody issues based on the best interest of the children without regard to either parent’s nationality, foreign parents have had little success in regaining custody.
Japanese family law follows a tradition of sole custody divorces. When a couple splits, one parent typically makes a complete and lifelong break from the children.
In court documents filed in May, Noriko Savoie denied that she was failing to abide by the terms of the couple’s court-approved parenting plan or ignoring court-appointed parent coordinators. She added she was “concerned about the stability of Father, his extreme antagonism towards Mother and the effect of this on the children.”
Noriko Savoie could not be reached by CNN for comment.
Bruno said he helped Christopher Savoie pursue legal remedies to recover the children, working with police, the FBI and the State Department.
“We tried to do what we could to get the kids back,” Bruno said. “There was not a whole lot we can do.”
“Our court system failed him,” said Diane Marshall, a court-appointed parent coordinator who helped Savoie make decisions about the children. “It’s just a mess.”
But Moses, Noriko Savoie’s attorney, told CNN that the children’s father had other legal options.
The International Association for Parent-Child Reunion, formed in Japan this year, claims to know of more than 100 cases of children abducted by non-custodial Japanese parents.
And the U.S. State Department says it is not aware of a single case in which a child taken from the United States to Japan has been ordered returned by Japanese courts — even when the left-behind parent has a U.S. custody decree.
Facing such statistics and the possibility of never seeing his kids again, Savoie took matters into his own hands.
He flew to Fukuoka. And as his ex-wife walked the two children to school Monday morning, Savoie drove alongside them.
He grabbed the kids, forced them into his car, and drove off, said police in Fukuoka.
He headed for the U.S. consulate in that city to try to obtain passports for Isaac and Rebecca.
But Japanese police, alerted by Savoie’s ex-wife, were waiting.
Consulate spokeswoman Tracy Taylor said she heard a scuffle outside the doors of the consulate. She ran up and saw a little girl and a man, whom police were trying to talk to.
Eventually, police took Savoie away, charging him with the abduction of minors — a charge that carries a jail sentence of up to five years.
Bruno said if the situation were reversed and a Japanese parent had abducted a Japanese child and fled to America, U.S. courts would “correct that problem, because it’s a crime.”
He said he has “concerns about Japan … providing a place for people to abduct children and go to. The parent left behind does not have recourse.” He added, “the president and his administration should do something to correct this.”
The consulate met with Savoie on Monday and Tuesday, Taylor said. It has provided him with a list of local lawyers and said it will continue to assist.
Meanwhile, the international diplomacy continues. During the first official talks between the United States and Japan’s new government, the issue of parental abductions was raised.
But it is anybody’s guess what happens next to Savoie, who sits in a jail cell.
CNN’s Kyung Lah in Tokyo, Japan, and Aaron Cooper, Saeed Ahmed and Carolina Sanchez in Atlanta, Georgia, contributed to this report.
This story drew attention of the US public and the other US media picked it up.
Kyung posted his comment on this case in the blog at CNN’s website.
September 30, 2009
Family man’s plight not news in Japan
Posted: 806 GMT
Christopher Savoie’s case is playing out dramatically over the airwaves and in the blogosphere — an American man with sole legal custody of his young children, jailed in Japan for trying to bring his abducted children back to the U.S.
But if you’re Japanese, you’ve never heard of Savoie, because the story hasn’t been on a newscast or in the newspapers.
Based in Tokyo, among our first calls was to the local press in Fukuoka. The newspaper told us “This isn’t news.” When we asked if they would cover it because of the growing international interest, the paper flatly said, “No.”
That response is a window into the Japanese mindset of the privacy of the home, and helps explain the cultural and legal clash in which Savoie is trapped.
Invading into the domicile is considered taboo, where issues like domestic violence and child abuse still culturally remain private matters.
Japanese family law follows suit, hesitant to order families to recognize joint custody. It prefers to obey the cultural norm of the woman having primary custody, which often means the father never has any contact with the children. That would be unthinkable in a U.S. court, which sees joint custody as a matter of course in divorce.
The Americans I’ve interviewed in this story say they’re flabbergasted by Japan’s archaic and rigid laws. But in this culture, there’s no discussion about it. They don’t even consider it news.
Posted by: Kyung Lah
She focused on an American father who could not exercise his right as a father, his Japanese ex-wife who neglected legitimate proceedings and heartless Japanese police office tore a father and his children apart under “archaic and rigid laws”.
Kyung sympathized with this poor father.
Also, she found the Japanese media were indifferent to international issues and Japanese laws were archaic with the Americans’ voices.
As long as I referred to her coverage of this story, Japan was unconcerned about the issues related to other countries and Japanese justice system was lagging behind, compared with that of Western nations.
She reported the details of Christopher Savoie’s comments when she talked to him in jail.
Although this topic attracted the US public attention at early stage, American citizens lost their interest in this story soon after CNN released on updated information that Christopher was a naturalized Japanese citizen.
“The father, Christopher Savoie, apparently became a naturalized Japanese citizen four years ago, listing a permanent address in Tokyo, they said.
“And while he and Noriko Savoie, a Japanese native, divorced in Tennessee, the two never annulled their marriage in Japan, Japanese officials said.
“Also, the two children at the center of the case hold Japanese passports, they said.”
That means he is Japanese as well.
He became naturalized and retained his dual citizenships in the United States and Japan.
Even though the US court ruling made any decision, he could meet his children freely in Japan because he held a Japanese passport and citizenship, unless he violates Japanese laws during his stay in Japan.
Still, in case his ex-wife should not admit him meeting his children in Japan, he had the right to file a lawsuit against it.
Listening to his ex-wife’s complaints to be balanced, Christopher had an affair with an American woman and decided to get married to the woman, Amy, soon after his divorce from Noriko. But he paid US$ 700,000 for compensation money.
Christopher divorced Noriko in Tennessee, but he kept bigamy because they did not divorce in Japan.
“The couple, citizens of the United States and Japan, were married for 14 years and lived in Japan.”
“Noriko Savoie told a judge the words in her e-mail were in the heat of the moment; she was angry that her ex-husband had just married the woman who caused their marriage to end.”
“’I was very, very — at the peak of my frustration …’ Noriko Savoie told a judge, according to court transcripts. ‘He actually married three days before that e-mail. He remarried the person — a woman whom he was having affair [with], so I was very depressed and — but also angry.’”
“He said he’d have a hard time paying expensive legal fees because most of his money was tied up in his house, car and 401(k) after he gave Noriko Savoie more than $700,000 as part of the divorce settlement. With that money, he feared she’d be able to move and hide the children from him.”
I think this story was just a domestic battle in two countries.
The US State Department treated this issue as an internal problem and announced they did not develop it as a diplomatic issue.
On the other hand, Japanese Foreign Ministry did not seem to make a fuss about it despite its concerns about a more serious situation.
It was a fact that Christopher’s ex-wife breached court rulings of Tennessee. I think she should be punished under the law.
However, what I would like to point out is that it was the case where a Japanese father took his children away from their Japanese mother.
They were still a married couple under Japanese law.
So, in Japan, even a divorced parent is allowed to take his/her children to somewhere with the children consent.
Despite the complaints by the counterpart, the parent is not involved in a police matter or gets criminal charges unless the parent has some serious problems such as domestic violence, alcoholism, or drug abuse.
Rather, for that reason, I wondered why CNN investigated the reason Christopher was arrested and, if Kyung doubted the police announcement that Christopher “grabbed the kids, forced them into his car, and drove off”, what exactly happened when he picked his kids up.
No media reported this question.
CNN and other US media reported one viewpoint and made light of the other, and developed a battle between divorced Japanese couples into a serious diplomatic issue.
Their coverage of this story almost damaged US-Japan relationships and violated the children’s privacy with their photos published.
What on earth would Kyung like to report?
She would like to report the issue of Japanese civil law not admitting joint custody?
If that is the case, she should have had interviews with more people who worried about it.
Or, she would like to report Japanese government was not a signatory country of Hague Convention and that caused some problems?
If that is the case, she should have got comments from Japanese lawmakers and asked them why Japan had not ratified the treaty.
Or, she would like to criticize the police office, which arrested and detained Christopher?
Or, she would like to cover the story which straddled both countries because of her international broadcaster?
However, if she would like to report the irrational Japanese law and Japanese media coverage despite the visionary rights of an American father being violated, I reckon Kyung’s report must be out of focus.
I don’t think CNN needed to report a private issue between a Japanese couple because they were not celebrities.
It was enough that Japanese Christopher would have appealed a family court in Japan.
If CNN had investigated more details of his nationality, it could have reported a better story.
I think Kyung neglected the “fair and balanced” principle of journalism and detailed check on backgrounds of a news source.
The further story on this issue released on 12th and reported by Mallory Simon, not by Kyung Lah, in my opinion, was more based on facts without any conceived idea.
I have no idea of Mallory’s perspective on the issue, but anyway I think the reporter stuck to the “fair and balanced” journalism principle, compared with Kyung’s reporting.
Kyung reported the story in biased manners.
And it was so dangerous that the her reckless reports on a private strife between divorced Japanese couple could have been likely to evolved into a US-Japan diplomatic issue.