The Fukuoka U.S. consulate wouldn’t open the gates for Christopher Savoie

I meant to go on to non-Japan topics for a while, but this story broke.

CBS News: Christopher Savoie Follows Abducted Children to Japan, Gets Arrested


The story is Christopher Savoie was given joint custody of his two kids when he split from his wife, Noriko, sometime in the recent past. This was in Tennessee.

Noriko had the right to take the children to Japan for vacation. But not to flee the country with the children and effectively deny visitation to Christopher.

But that’s what she did.

Now it’s in the news cycle as an international issue between Japan and the United States. People who are reporting keep pointing out that Japan “never signed the 1980 Hague Convention” regarding child abductions.

The people parrot this, as if Japan signing a treaty means that Japan will take the treaty seriously in any event. I just got done blogging a few days about how Japan doesn’t cover foreigners for pension insurance on equal terms with Japanese, and that has been going on for four years—four years today (October 1) in fact, for the U.S. treaty. So it should be no surprise that in other areas, Japan simply hasn’t bothered to join an international agreement at all.

I’m reminded of an article I read in Harper’s Magazine about three years ago. It was on the comfort women (rape victim) issue from World War II.

About the relationship between Japan and America, this paragraph said it best:

Japan has always been able to block attempts to pass a congressional resolution on the exploitation of comfort women, partly because it runs a lavishly-funded Beltway lobbying operation. The Bush Administration has quietly assisted in attempts to block a resolution on comfort women. According to Mindy Kotler, the director of Asia Policy Point, a research center on Japan and northeast Asia, the Administration views Japan as the key regional bulwark against an emerging Chinese regime that may be hostile to the United States in the future. “The administration wants Japan to be a central part of America’s Asian security architecture—above Australia, India, and the British Navy,” she said. “Any issue that the Japanese have defined as disturbing has been shunted aside to ensure that nothing upsets the alliance with Japan—and I mean nothing, whether it’s a trade dispute or taking responsibility for the comfort women.” [Emphasis added.]

The article reported that former U.S. Congressman Bob Michel’s lobbying firm was getting $60,000 a month from the Japanese solely to lobby about Japan’s various World War II issues “includ[ing] claims concerning Japan’s vile abuses of American P.O.W.s, including the use of slave labor.” According to the Harper’s piece, Bob Michel was “only the most prominent of a small gang of lobbyists” that the Japan lobby paid to keep World War II issues out of Congress and the public eye.

Some time back I pointed out how in the States, lobbying money is equated by some to free speech, but in fact most of the rest of the world rightly looks at it like bribery. I happen to think it’s more like bribery, and why Americans here are looked at like affable fools who are easily bribed.

The Japanese figured this out long ago, and so these child abductions–abductions of American children by a purported ally of America–continue unabated.

It’s noteworthy that the names of the same congressmen who are willing to speak up about Japan’s transgressions show up time and again In the 2006 Harper’s piece, Representaive Chris Smith of New Jersey was one of the congressmen who was advancing the comfort women resolution until Bob Michel’s lobbying efforts worked their way into the picture.

Today, Chris Smith is one of the Congressmen concerned enough about the issue to submit a bill in the House to sanction countries that allow child abductions like this. On the Congressman’s website, Smith says:

Historically, parents left behind when their children are abducted to Japan have little hope and little recourse for justice because the Japanese government ignores U.S. family court rulings and will not honor the rights of American parents. Even in extreme cases such as when the abducting parent passes away, the Japanese government has not returned the child to the left behind parent. In fact, there is no known case of Japan ever returning an abducted Japanese-American child to the left behind parent.

It will be interesting to see how the Japan Bribe Machine operating in Washington tackles this latest one.

The obvious resolution to the problem is for Japan to recognize other country’s joint custody awards. But I have the feeling what will happen instead is to grease the palms in the tony executive suites of these lobbyist firms and try to get any resolution knocked out. At least that’s how it was under LDP. Maybe with the new Hatoyama Government, a different approach will be taken

Debito is of course on this story as a prominent and topical civil rights matter. Debito’s written about it for years, and hopefully someone in Chris Smith’s office will follow up with him as a resource.

But out of all the elements of this story, the thing that you might find most shocking is that the abandoned father was turned away at the embasssy (consulate) gates. When I read about it, though, I asked myself: Why doesn’t this surprise me?

I haven’t had a good chance to write about it, but like I’ve said, I think our U.S. embassy really drops the ball when it comes to issues of supporting Americans here in Japan. The ones who live here for a time, and even the ones who are here to get their kids back.

Does that Harper’s article shed some light on why the Embassy staff gets in a tizzy if an American shows up at the gates? (“Uh-oh. This might mean we don’t get our way about some military request! Or we might get a call from Bob Michel’s lobbying firm!”)

What exactly is that OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council) doing to protect guys like Christopher Savoie? Isn’t Noriko Savoie a threat to American interests? Seriously, if OSAC is running around identifying “threats to American interests” in Japan, isn’t someone who absconds with the kids in violation of Tennessee law just that kind of threat?


10 thoughts on “The Fukuoka U.S. consulate wouldn’t open the gates for Christopher Savoie

  1. Now the news is picking out a few interesting tidbits.

    One, is that Chris Savoie had been in Japan for seven of the last eight years as a Principal in a company called GNI, Ltd. It’s involved in some sort of pharmaceutical product tied to genetics.

    The stock trades publicly, but earlier this year its auditor gave a “going concern” opinion. In America, this means that auditor does not think that the firm can last one additional year.

    Savoie himself is an M.D./Ph.D — probably from a dual-credentializing program. If he had a role in starting GNI, it means he started it just a few years out of a dual program. He’s 38, and the company started when he was 30.

    He left the leadership of this company in December 2007.

    Another piece floating around out there is that Savoie obtained a Japanese passport four years ago. It means, for practical purposes, that he is a Japanese. But I know that the Japanese expect any dual citizen to turn in the other country’s (ies’) passport(s).

    He must not have done this with his American one. Good for him, but I think he made an issue for himself with the Japanese one.

    I still feel that Noriko Savoie is wrong, and if Chris Savoie is still in allegiance to our country, then our country should be there for him. But the later information is clouding things just a little bit.

    It makes it sound like Chris was running a business in Japan and even accepting Japanese citizenship. Then, he left the business which seems to be going downhill anyway. He went back to Tennessee with his wife, and promptly got divorced from her. He married someone else, and expected Noriko to continue to hang out in America if she wanted to keep in contact with her kids.

    Doesn’t it?

  2. So Christopher is Japanese –aren’t you American when you take the American citizenship?-, to the same effects he has Japanese children, married to a Japanese woman –so still under Japanese law- and… all of a sudden for his own benefit he decides that he is mainly American and that the U.S.A. law is ABOVE any law and custom of Japan. Mmmm, interesting. So here we see… a member of the upper race/class –let call it American- always retain some sort of privilege, projecting those ones to other countries’ who must comply or else…. Old song.
    If Japanese laws or customs are wrong, you can not oblige them right by simple use of force, brandishing the American flag as a symbol of supreme morality.
    Sorry to point to the evident, but this guy can not infringe a foreign country’s law just because he feels entitled by his origin country’s court. Moreover, having done that weaken his case and indispose the locals for any theoretical sympathy they could have had.
    And if anyone is still oblivious to it, take note: Americans have a bad, mischievous international image that won’t change by crying out yeehaw everytime something doesn’t go exactly the American way.

    1. Lxxvs,

      You’re right as far as dual nationality is concerned. The better evidence at the moment is that Christopher Savoie took a Japanese passport about four years ago—and never turned in his U.S. one. This is something that Japan requires.

      It makes the story interesting, because now it looks like Chris repatriated himself back in America in a choice-of-laws move before he filed for divorce. Probably because he knew that the father (almost) never gets the kids in Japan.

      On your general anti-Americanism, though, I don’t have much to respond to. When people want something from America, we’re great. And only then. (Ask most French.)

      The comments do serve as a nice example of the kind of things Americans hear about themselves overseas, which means I do less explaining back home.

  3. Consulates must follow the law of the land. Consulates are not some sort of sacred base ground where you can run to after you break the law of the country. Only the diplomats (the guys with the U.S. passports that say “OFFICIAL” on the front cover) are beyond the immediate touch of local law enforcement.

    The only special privilege that consulates and embassies have is that no local government official (and that means Japanese cops and/or military) can enter without the ambassador’s permission.

    If Christopher had actually made it into the embassy, they couldn’t have followed him in hot pursuit. They’d have to ring the doorbell, explain that there was a fugitive from the law in their building, and could you please let them in to arrest or escort the suspect outside.

    The ambassador would have given permission because Japan is a first world country where justice is done with lawyers and a court of law and not a place where justice is done on the street with a machete by the warlord of the week. The only time the embassy protects citizens from the local law is when the country is in an anarchy state and the citizen’s life is in danger (“distress”).

    Christopher’s case, even though he had custody in the U.S., is not a matter of distress.

    For reference, here’s the State Department page which exactly applies to Christopher’s situation, saying in no unclear terms that the embassy follows the law of the land and they would not help Savoie:

    And another interesting read:

    * The running towards the embassy gates, with the bad corrupt police on your tail, screaming “I’m an American! I’m an American! Open the gates!” does makes for good Hollywood action scenes, though.

  4. Yes, of course the Consulate is situated in the host country, and isn’t a part of the home country. And Inoue-san, you’re right: chances are what would have happened is Savoie would have been promptly kicked out.

    I am blogging about how the U.S. embassy and consulate offices apparently take NO interest in the everyday problems Americans have in Japan. I am hardly a regular there, but the three times I’ve visited, I get the sense like it’s the unwashed coming and interrupting the good thing going on.

    I am told that the Canadian Embassy has a monthly picnic. A number of the other ones seem to be closer to their citizens here than sending a monthly e-mail.

    I promised myself I was going to get off Savoie, since I think he was a jerk in how he went about his divorce. But if you’ve got the links, it means his counsel should have had them, too—since it’s easy enough to find out the policy. So he was actually better off making his way directly to the airport and see what would happen.

  5. Another fine example of how Japan disregards all other nations and gets away with it.

    I like Japanese people. They’re good, honest, hard-working people.. ruled by selfish, hard-headed bureaucrats who like nothing more than to have their backs scratched and palms greased twenty-four hours a day…. Perhaps this is because the majority of Japanese people do not participate in their own democratic process, nor take any interest in politics other than reading the latest tabloid scandals.

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