In 2014, after years of diplomatic pressure and countless horror stories about parents losing all contact with children taken to or retained in Japan, the nation finally joined the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This should have relegated to history Japan's growing reputation as a "black hole" of abduction of children by one parent — usually the Japanese one —after the breakdown of a marriage or other relationship.

Less than four years later, in a sadly predictable ruling issued on Dec. 21, Japan's Supreme Court confirmed abductions can continue. The difference seems to be that lower courts will pay lip service to the ideals of the convention by going through the motions, and various well-intentioned institutions now exist to help achieve the amicable resolutions that should ideally end such cases. But visitation with taken children will still be difficult or impossible, return orders will remain unenforceable and, at the end of it all, courts will be able to find it best for the children to stay in Japan.

The baroque procedural regime adopted by Japan to implement the convention was designed to give lower courts various ways to avoid returning children. Now that the top court has ratified such a result, we can probably expect to see more cases like this.