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For Japanese, a Typical Tale of Divorce


Unswerving cyclist
14 Mar 2002
Reported by the Washington Post, May 19, 2001

For Japanese, a Typical Tale of Divorce

By Kathryn Tolbert
Washington Post Foreign Service

KAMAKURA, Japan -- The former wife of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi paid a high price when they divorced 19 years ago. They divided custody of their three children; she did not see her two boys again and he never returned to meet his youngest son, then not yet born.

Kayoko Miyamoto has asked several times to meet with her two oldest sons, now 20 and 22, but has been turned down, she said in an interview Thursday. "Koizumi is a man who keeps his promises," she said. "But on this point he did not." The son she raised, now 18, admires his father and hopes one day to meet him.

Japan's new prime minister, 59, is widely described as a modern bachelor and a maverick determined to revolutionize Japanese politics, but the story of his marriage and divorce reflects social traditions that, while changing, are still common in illustrious families like his.

The importance of a male heir to continue the family name and the fact that joint custody is not legal here means that fathers once got the children most of the time. Mothers now get custody in 80 percent of divorces as more have entered the workforce and can support their children, and as men have become less attached to the old family name system.

But what makes the custody decision a difficult one is the widespread practice of not visiting or allowing visits with the other parent. The fact that Koizumi has not met his youngest son, even though he lives only an hour's train ride away, is not unusual in Japan.

"I'd be more surprised if there had been regular contact over the years," said Hiromi Ikeuchi, who runs classes and workshops on divorce. "I myself have not allowed my ex-husband to see our daughter, who was 5 years old when we divorced and is now 13."

She said there is a big difference between the American idea of family and the Japanese idea of house. "Here the children inherit a position as head of the household. It's not the individual identity which the parents nurture, but the successors of the house," Ikeuchi said.

In Japan, if there are meetings between divorced parents and children, they cease when either parent remarries, she added.

In the new prime minister's case, neither has remarried. "If the energy required to get married is one, the energy required to get divorced is 10," Koizumi said in a widely quoted interview several years ago.

When Koizumi and Miyamoto married after an arranged introduction, with then-Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda as official matchmaker, Koizumi was the 36-year-old scion of a political family, following his grandfather and father into national politics. Miyamoto was a 21-year-old student at an elite university in Tokyo, the granddaughter of the former chairman of a major pharmaceutical company. The wedding banquet was attended by 2,500 people, and the wedding cake was shaped like the Japanese parliament building.

The university senior came as the bride into the Koizumi household -- a large political clan that included his mother, four sisters and a brother, along with spouses and children, most of them living together in the city of Yokosuka, about 35 miles south of Tokyo.

"It's a very serious thing to win elections for three generations," Miyamoto said. "It was a really big family. Each member has his own position, and mine was that of the bride, which is not very big." And the person she most wanted to talk to, her husband, had very little free time.

Many Japanese say it would have been hard for any young woman to enter the Koizumi family. His mother and an elder sister have been described as experienced political operatives -- his sister works as a key aide in his office today -- and the usually difficult position of daughter-in-law would be compounded by the demands of being a political wife.

After four years, the marriage was over. "If this had been the typical salaryman family, maybe I would have gotten custody," she said. "But this was a political family, and they wanted the boys."

She was six months pregnant and her only thought was to give birth to a healthy baby. "If I knew anything about legal practices, I might have negotiated, but I didn't."

One of Koizumi's sisters has raised the boys, according to Japanese press reports. Miyamoto said Koizumi told her that she would be able to see them when they were in junior high school, but that promise wasn't kept. And she has no thoughts of going to court for visitation rights. "The lesson I learned through divorce is that I never want confrontation with others."

Ninety percent of divorces in Japan proceed by mutual agreement with a simple form filed at the local government office. One line has a space to specify which children are going with the father and which with the mother. Visitation is arranged informally by the parents, but there is no contact with the noncustodial parent in nearly 40 percent of divorces and hardly any contact in another 18 percent, according to a 1997 survey in the Women's Data Book, put out by a Japanese publisher of legal reference books.

Lawyers say establishing joint custody in Japan is unlikely because little progress has been made on other seemingly less serious issues. The family register law, which mandates that one name be used per household, prohibits joint bank accounts and requires a husband and wife to take the same last name, usually the husband's.

Asked why his ex-wife couldn't visit her sons and whether he wanted to meet his youngest, the prime minister responded through his spokesman: "Because it is a matter of privacy, I would like to refrain from commenting. However, I thank the Japanese public for entrusting this important duty as prime minister to a politician like me who has been divorced. I feel some sort of change flowing in Japanese society."

The number of divorces, while far fewer than in the United States, has doubled from 1975 to 1999. But except for celebrities, there is still a social stigma attached to divorce, and elite private schools are said to reject children from single-parent homes.

Miyamoto, now 45, is not bitter. She lives with her mother in Kamakura, 30 miles south-southwest of Tokyo, and speaks highly of her ex-husband, his love of children, his skill as a politician. "He's the person Japan needs now," she said. She still has the Gucci bag that was the first present he gave her when they decided to get married.

And she said she couldn't stop crying when her son, Yoshinaga Miyamoto, watching Koizumi on television campaigning for the prime minister's job, shouted, "Come on, Pop, win this one!"

Koizumi has paid child support for his third son, but there has been no contact. Miyamoto said she receives a New Year's card each year from his lawyer asking if there is anything she needs. What she wants, she said, is simply a phone call from Koizumi.

Her son, recently returned from spending his high school years in the United States, went against her advice and gave an interview to the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho, which appeared on newsstands Thursday, including a photograph of the youth with a hip-hop hairdo and friendly grin.

"Newspapers and television say that my dad has two sons, and in one magazine there was a family tree with the eldest son and middle son's names written properly, and I was introduced as merely a third son," he was quoted as saying. "I felt a bit miserable thinking, 'Don't I have a name?' Because I am Koizumi's son and it does not change the fact that I am his family, so introduce me properly."

He carries his mother's family name, which she took back after the divorce, because she has custody.

"Ever since I was born, for 18 years, I have never met my dad, but I have never held that against anyone. I respect my dad and my dad is cool. We live apart but you don't know how much the existence of Junichiro Koizumi that I have been watching from afar has supported me and encouraged me. I would like to meet my dad and my two brothers, and I believe someday we can."

Special correspondents Shigehiko Togo and Akiko Yamamoto contributed to this report.

Copyright ツゥ The Washington Post
Understanding Japanese politics

Found these pages today, excellent reading material on Japanese politics in general, presented by Mainichi Daily News:

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May 2001 Poll

By the way, here are the results of our May poll entitled "Do you believe that Japan's new prime minister Koizumi will succeed with overdue political and economic reforms?":

Yes 61,5% (16 votes) 
Who cares? 23,0% (6 votes) 
No 7,6% (2 votes) 
Just another puppet... 7,6% (2 votes) 
Total Votes 26

Ganbattene, Koizumi-san!
Japan's ''lionheart'' remains enigma abroad

Taken from http://famulus.msnbc.com/FamulusIntl/reuters07-05-154134.asp?reg=PACRIM:

Japan's ''lionheart'' remains enigma abroad

LONDON, July 5 窶 Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has wound up his first foreign trip since taking power with questions still unanswered about whether he is more style than substance.

Lauded back in Japan as ''Lionheart'' for his good looks and maverick image, Koizumi's just-ended debut on the world stage in visits to the United States, Britain and France has not won him the same rave reviews overseas.

After so many false dawns -- and prime ministers -- promising economic recovery since Japan started to descend into its present financial quagmire in the early 1990s, there had been hopes Koizumi would be more forthright in how he planned to tackle the problems in the world's second-largest economy as it sinks towards recession.

But Koizumi has returned home with Japan's main trading partners and allies little the wiser about difficult reforms aimed at resuscitating the economy, the troubled Kyoto climate treaty and U.S. missile defence.

''At the end of the visit, there is a perception that what was wanted from this trip was to see delivery, not just words,'' said London-based Stephen Hannah, Chief Economist for Europe for National Australia Bank.

''We're all conscious that lots have been promised before by other prime ministers, but what they delivered always fell well short,'' Hannah told Reuters.

However, even he praised Koizumi for bringing new energy and assertiveness to Japanese policymaking. ''He is at least a refreshing change,'' Hannah said. The warmest words for Koizumi came in his meetings with President George W. Bush, the leader he needs most on his side.

''I want to praise the prime minister for his vision for reform of the Japanese economy,'' Bush said as the two men stood side by side in open-necked shirts at the wooded presidential compound outside Washington on Saturday. ''He's willing to make difficult choices and that's what a leader does.''

Bush, who took a stroll with the Japanese leader among the rustic cabins at Camp David and tossed a baseball back and forth, was equally warm to Koizumi personally, calling him a courageous and dynamic man with ''a great sense of humour. From both the U.S. and the Japanese perspective it went extremely well,'' said Balbina Hwang, a policy analyst for northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

''I was not surprised to see how lavishly Bush accepted Koizumi and praised him. Just by the choice of the site alone -- Camp David -- I had the feeling that it would end up being a very intimate, casual, backslapping atmosphere, which of course is exactly how it turned out,'' Hwang added.

''For Koizumi it was a test to see whether in fact the Bush administration would (do what they said), which is to highlight or prioritize the U.S.-Japanese alliance ... and back away from the previous Clinton policy of lecturing or bullying or criticizing Japan,'' Hwang added. ''If that was the test, Bush passed with flying colours.''

With Koizumi heading into crucial Upper House elections on July 29, the agenda for his tour was always likely to be as much about domestic politics as getting to know world leaders and putting flesh on his economic policies.

For the media-savvy prime minister, receiving an autographed baseball from Bush at Camp David, drinking a pint of Guinness in London and watching a sumo-wrestling video in Paris with President Jacques Chirac, were moments guaranteed to go down well with electors back in Japan.

The Financial Times said Koizumi's agenda appeared defined ''more by negatives than positives'' as he fought conservatives in his ruling Liberal Democratic Party for control of the party.

''The impression is of a man expending most of his energy on trying to tear down structures and fight his conservatives rather than on building a new vision,'' the newspaper said. But The Guardian sympathised with the tasks Koizumi had to tackle and advised him against going for grand gestures. ''It would be easy, but wrong, to dismiss Japan's hairshirted lionheart as the right man at the wrong moment,'' a Guardian editorial said.

''Mr Koizumi should get stuck in now but concentrate on certain priorities-- such as a rescue plan for Japan's overlent banks -- rather than going for a Big Bang solution.''

Copyright ツゥ MSNBC
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