"Families Together and Apart: Divorce, Child Custody, and Contested Disconnection in Contemporary Japan"

ICEA Colloquium Series
Allison Alexy
Nov 7, 2019 - at - | Stiteler Hall, Room B26

In contemporary Japan, police and law enforcement are often reluctant to assist in family conflicts. Law enforcement representatives instead push family members to settle problems on their own. Given such a context, this presentation explores how law and legal norms impact relationships between parents and children after divorce. All dynamics of post-divorce kinship begin from the legal fact that there is no joint custody in Japan. Throughout the postwar, rates of custody being granted to mothers have steadily increased, and currently stand at eighty percent. Moreover sole legal custody is coupled with a cultural belief that a “clean break” can benefit children because it is psychologically less damaging to have no contact with one parent than shuttle between two households. However there is a growing movement, organized mostly by non-custodial fathers, to “reform” Japanese family law and popularize a joint custody option. This presentation focuses on both people who experienced a “clean break” divorce and those who are increasingly calling that disconnection into question. I argue that although there are no requirements for shared custody, a substantial minority of families sustain de facto joint custody. Demonstrating contested, shifting ideals of familial bonds, these attempts to share custody highlight desires to redress the disconnection divorce produces and to create connected families, even when they bring legal risks.

Allison Alexy is an assistant professor in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She serve as the Director of Undergraduate Studies at the Center for Japanese Studies, and welcome applications to join the Undergraduate Advisory Board. She is the series editor for a new book series, Asia Pop!from the University of Hawai’i Press. The first book in the series, Daisy Yan Du's wonderful Animated Encounters: Transnational Movements of Chinese Animation, 1940s–1970s will be released in early 2019.