Media Mix, Aug. 5, 2018

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about how LDP lawmaker Mio Sugita’s controversial remarks about LGBT individuals highlights the Japanese mindset regarding rigid family structures. Though I’ve discussed this matter many times before in this column (it has personal meaning since my Japanese partner was born out of wedlock), what’s particularly galling about Sugita’s viewpoint is how it affects children down the line. Her ideas about “productivity” are entirely utilitarian and, as such, sidestep the issue of what’s best for a child in the scope of what constitutes a “family.” To her, the fact that LGBT people can’t naturally have children (though, to be consistent, gay men can donate sperm and lesbians can give birth) is the only criterion for their contributions to society as a whole. There are, of course, other ways to contribute to society, as there are ways to contribute to the family life of a nation. The reason I concentrated on special adoptions is to show that once a child is born, the state seems to think it has no further responsibility, since children become the property of their birth parents.

But what if the parents are unable for whatever reason to raise that child? This question is fraught with difficulties that all societies must address. Because of the primacy of the family register, the Japanese authorities are loath to take a child away from a parent if that parent won’t give up custody, even if the parent cannot raise the child. Even if the authorities acknowledge that the parent is a danger to the child (which happens very often but, as the occasional abuse-related death of young children in Japan proves, perhaps not enough) they will not revoke the parent’s custody unilaterally, which means the child ends up in an institution or in foster care. Adoption is still a social taboo, and parents who adopt a child as their own do so almost always as a last resort, after all options for natural birth or medically assisted conception have been exhausted. It’s safe to say no one in Japan adopts a child for the sake of adoption. That’s why special adoptions are “special”: they are unusual, a decision that implies desperation. Adoptive parents want to keep it a secret.

What’s clear is that the system favors the primacy of the natural family and the natural parent rather than the welfare of the child. The government’s decision to make it easier to specially adopt older children does not look, on the surface, to be a means of making life easier for orphaned or otherwise parent-free (as opposed to parentless) children, but rather a means of making it easier for couples who, for whatever reason, can’t have children “of their own” to create families. The intentions are different and informed by the family register. As long as the koseki system exists in its present form, that will always be the case.

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