Japan as Safe Haven for Parental Kidnappers

The Japan Times recently published an excellent article on Japan’s role as a safe haven for parents who kidnap their children in violation of child custody orders in their home countries.

The article leads with the case of Murray Wood whose two children went from Canada with his ex-wife to visit their ailing grandfather in Japan in November 2004. The children have remained in Japan ever since, despite a Canadian court’s ruling months earlier that granted Murray Wood sole custody to the children.

Unfortunately, Wood has few options since Japan is not a signatory to the 1980 Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction which sought to prevent exactly this sort of cross-border child abduction by parents. Under that convention, children like Wood’s would have to be promptly returned to their country of origin which would have the final say in all custodial matters.

According to the Japan Times,

The Canadian Embassy said it is presently dealing with 21 cases of child abduction, while the figure for the British Embassy was about five. The U.S. Embassy said it is aware of 20 children who have been abducted and taken to Japan.

So why hasn’t Japan signed the convention like most developed countries? A 1996 Los Angeles Times article suggested that cultural norms related to marriage and divorce were the likely reasons. According to the Los Angeles Times,

In Japan’s historically non-litigious society, the family court is designed to provide ways for problems to be resolved amicably, with the help of a court-appointed mediator. Attorneys said there is no legal mechanism to award joint custody of children, but the noncustodial parent may be given visitation rights.

. . .

Kunio Koide, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official, said his government does not see the need for signing the treaty because Japan’s Protection of Personal Liberties Act prevents an individual from being illegally restrained. But Koide acknowledged that it would be difficult to prosecute a parent under that act.

The article further notes that Japan does not treat parental kidnapping as a crime, so even in cases where parents have been convicted of parental kidnapping in the United States and managed to travel to Japan, the United States is not able to extradite those individuals from Japan.


Lost in a Loophole: Foreigners Who Are on the Losing End of a Custody Battle in Japan Don’t Have Much Recourse. Evelyn Iritani, Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1996.

Japan remains safe haven for parental abductions. Masami Ito, Japan Times, December 31, 2005.

Whaling Shock — Japan Paid Solomon Islands for IWC Vote

Former Solomon Islands whaling officials revealed the biggest non-secret about the annual International Whaling Commission meetings — Japan is paying some countries to vote to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling.

Former Solomon Islands IWC Commissioner Albert Wata told ABC’s Four Corners,

Yes, the Japanese pay the government subscriptions. They support the delegations tot the meetings in terms of meeting air fares and per diem.

Solomon Islands Fisheries Minister Nelson Kile told the program that Japan paid the Solomons membership fees in the IWC,

Yes they do (pay the fees). I’m not really sure but probably for 10 years I think.

So far, though, Japan’s efforts have yet to pay off. Its efforts to overturn the moratorium again failed earlier this year at the 2005 meeting of the IWC.


Japan ‘brought Solomons whaling votes’. Associated Press, July 18, 2005.

Japan Reportedly Set to Expand Number of Whales Species It Hunts for ‘Scientific’ Purposes

In April, the Japanese press claimed that along with plans to increase the number of minke whales it kills annually, it plans to begin taking humpback and fin whales, species which it has not hunted since the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whale hunting went into effect in 1986.

Along with minke whales, Japan currently hunts sei whales, sperm whales and Bryde’s whales as part of a limited scientific research hunting it is allowed to cull without being in violation of the commercial hunting moratorium.

According to Kyodo news agency, Japan will submit a whaling plan to the IWC ahead of its meeting this summer in which it outlines plans to almost double its current take of 440 minke whales, as well as add around 10 humpback and 10 fin whales.

An unidentified Japan Fisheries Agency official would not comment on the veracity of the report, but did tell Reuters,

However, it has been recorded that the populations of the humpback and fin whales in Antarctica are increasing. Nobody disputes this.

. . .

We always maintain that we will discuss these things scientifically, but with whales, it quickly grows emotional.

This is clearly a ploy on the part of Japan to ratchet up the rhetoric in favor of eliminating the commercial moratorium on whaling ahead of the IWC’s next meeting. Currently the moratorium is hanging on by a thread, barely surviving recent efforts by Japan and Norway to return to regulated commercial hunting of whales.


Reports: Japan to Expand Whale Hunt to New Species. Elaine Lies, Reuters, April 12, 2005.

First Successful Live-Donor Islet Cell Transplantation Procedure

In February, the BBC reported that a team at Japan’s Kyoto University Hospital had succeeded in transplanting islet cells from a healthy woman into her 27-year-old diabetic daughter.

Islet cell transplantations have been performed before, but always from dead organ donors, which created a number of problems since the islet cells were frequently damaged after the death of the donor. And in countries as Japan, dead organ donors are extremely rare.

As the BBC notes, this could be an effective treatment for Type 1 diabetes, and we have animal research to thank for this advance.

That islet transplantation might be used to treat diabetes was first established by Dr. Paul Lacy who used a rat model in which he made the experimental rats suffer from diabetes and then transplanted islet cells from healthy rats. The rats were effectively cured of their diabetes.

How important was this animal research? Dr. James Shapiro was the lead surgeon on the team that transplanted the islet cells. In an interview, he said that a key at DiabetesStation.Com, Shapiro noted that animal research was instrumental in helping researchers understand where the islet cells should be transplanted to for maximum effectiveness,

The idea to use the liver was not mine. Experiments in rats, in large animals, and eventually in people all suggested that the liver was about the only site where islets could take well and work in people.

Sort of odd how that could happen if animals are too different from human beings for animal research to be applicable to human health problems.


Living donor diabetes transplant. The BBC, February 4, 2005.

Islet Cell Transplant. Dr. James Shapiro, April 13, 2003.

World-first living donor islet cell transplant a success. Press release, University of Alberta, February 3, 2005.

Japanese Fisheries Official Says Whaling Is a 'Right'

Masayuki Komatsu, a senior Japanese Fisheries Agency official and delegate to the International Whaling Commission, said in September that whaling is a right and an important part of Japan’s cultural heritage.

Reuters reported that Komatsu told a gathering of journalists,

Eating whale is a key part of Japanese culture. . . . There are so many robust whales stocks, such as minke whales, the sei whale, the Bryde’s whale. . . . Sperm whales are rampant. They may be around twice the number of minke whales.

Komatsu has previously referred to minke whales as “cockroaches of the sea” and explained to his statement to journalists thusly,

There are two characteristics. One is that there are so many of both of them. And the reproduction rate for those two animals is very rapid. That’s why I said a minke whale is like a cockroach.

Komatsu noted that the Japanese government has already commissioned studies on what the impact would be if Japan decided to abandon the International Whaling Commission which so far has refused Japanese efforts to overturn the two decade ban on commercial whaling, but that no decision had been made yet on whether Japan would withdraw from the organization if it should again fail to overturn the ban at the 2005 IWC meeting.


Japan says whaling a right. Elaine Lies, Reuters, September 15, 2004.

Japan Anti-Vivisection Association Loses Lawsuit

Japan Today reports that the Japan Anti-Vivisection Association lost a recent lawsuit aimed at preventing the transfer of Japanese monkeys from a zoo to a primate research facility.

The group wanted to stop the transfer of animals from the Maruyama Zoo in Sapporo to the Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute.

As many as 2,400 monkeys may be transferred as part of the plan. The monkeys are to be used to stock a primate breeding facility to provide primates for biomedical research in Japan.


Animal rights group loses suit to halt use of monkeys for research. Japan Today, July 30, 2004.

Stop plans to use Japanese zoo monkeys for lab research. Press Release, International Primate Protection League, October 7, 2003.