On Japan's Koseki or Family Registry System

by Richard Burton
(Kanagawa, Japan )

The koseki system (or family registery system in Japan) registers the entire population exclusively as family units, not as individuals. A divorce means one partner is removed from that family's koseki. In an international marriage that is always the non-Japanese partner, because koseki are exclusively Japanese family-by-family registers, and mandatory at that. The system is seen as patriarchal because originally the family head was male and accountable to the government for taxes and military conscription for the entire family.

The post-war constitution made huge progress in recognizing all adult individuals (including women) as equal under the law, but of course its authors couldn't have foreseen just how far-reaching changes such as contraception, divorce, and economic independence (through work) would shift the once 'normative' family to the contemporary family. Presumably that, or simple expediency, is why they didn't follow through with any reform of the koseki system. In the context of contemporary society, every wife (and her maiden family) knows that should she choose to divorce, then the koseki system would skew the equation to such a degree that she is guaranteed sole matriarchal custody of all children. With no legal enforcement of visitation, she also knows that the greater her (ex)husband cares about his children, the greater the visitation ransom fee she can extract from him.

All of this 'contemporary' behavior is widespread and is exploited by hard-headed malcontent wives far more than by genuinely abused wives, though almost all claim to be the latter. Extremely hard-headed or malicious wives know that false domestic violence claims will keep the father out of sight long enough for children to be groomed into alignment with one parent against the other. Any counter approach by the father is classified as stalking, harassment, or attempted kidnap (a sick irony). Knowing Family Courts do not investigate D.V. claims with due process, grants the accuser not only impunity, but at least some measure of success in tainting his character with serious doubt. Mothers of this type also know that even if the Family Court sincerely believes that its decisions are made 'in the best interests of the child', even to the point that that child will be consulted, the child by then will have been isolated from the other parent and groomed with misinformation for so long that its choice most definitely will not be an 'informed' choice, and likely the result of considerable intimidation too.

In any case, when can any child having to be faced with such a choice ever be in the best interests of the child? No child should have to make such a choice ever, and certainly not just because of the koseki system. In reality isn't the child being asked to rubber stamp the Court's pliant acceptance of the mother's wishes to spare the Court from blushing at its impotence?

Exactly the same pressure that somehow dismisses continuity prior to abduction as totally irrelevant, whereas continuity after abduction (and of course the word abduction is avoided) is chosen to be seen as PIVOTAL! So in the interests of children's welfare the koseki system is flawed and must be amended or replaced. Why keep it?

Military conscription no longer applies, and in any case other countries have conscription without kosekis. The tax system has long been on an individual basis and, I might be wrong but I think, no longer has any link to the koseki. Is there another link that I do not know? Perhaps the criminal record system? This is extremely unlikely. Is there a practical documentation issue? Well there certainly was a limitation until word processors made kanji records easy. Now most of the population, even children, have cell phones or smart phones. So, it seems to me that the main residual character of the koseki system that some people would like to keep is that it excuses its innately nationalistic stance as if this were merely a respectable tradition.

Any replacement system would have to handle issues of national identity, blood line, and ethnicity (supposed or otherwise). There would also have to be enough impetus for change from within Japan. Think of all those disenfranchised fathers, under-supported forced to be single parents, and singles for whom the ramifications of the koseki system mean they are intimidated at making marriage commitments. Think of the birth-rate disaster. Think of our damaged kids. The Hague Treaty has exposed the inappropriateness of the koseki system to contemporary society. So too, to some extent, has the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children. For the future quality of life in Japan, let's agitate the political parties to supplant the koseki with a system suitable for modern lifestyes.

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