Cultural attitudes spell few adoptions

by Setsuko Kamiya


Westerners say they want to adopt a child, it is because they are blessed with such capability and want to do so for the sake of the child,” said Kuniko Omori, general director of International Social Service Japan, a welfare organization headquartered in Geneva that offers advice for people seeking to adopt internationally.

Age or disability hardly matters to adoptive parents in the West, Omori said. “In the mind-set of many Japanese, there is still the sense that they want to adopt the child to carry on the family line.”

In prewar Japan, adoption, particularly among relatives, was a common way of maintaining the family name, business and fortune. This remains the case today.

A prominent example is Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, an Upper House member of the Liberal Democratic Party who was adopted by the family of his grandfather, the late Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi. LDP lawmaker Seiko Noda was born Seiko Shima but was adopted by her grandfather, Uichi Noda, who was also an LDP Diet member, to take his family name.

Both Takahashi and Omori said they warn couples that it is against a child’s interests to be placed in a home where the parents want a child simply to keep the family name alive, and that their chances of being selected as foster parents are low if that is their motivation.

Omori said Japanese tend to think that biological parents should raise children and look down on those who can’t.

Aoyama Gakuin University professor Junichi Shoji’s experiences as a foster parent substantiates Omori’s view.

“Some people praise me for doing it, and some view it as an odd thing to do to take care of other people’s children,” said Shoji, who specializes in child welfare issues. He has been a foster parent to several children since 1983 and adopted one by mutual agreement when the child turned 18.

Adoption at a young age does help solidify the legal status and living conditions of the child, Shoji said. Looking at the reality of Japan, however, Shoji thinks foster parenting would be the best way to support children. But there are never enough registered foster parents, he said.

Takahashi of the metropolitan government shares that concern. “There are many children who need protection, but living in groups is not in the best interest of children,” she said. “We need more people to register as foster parents so that we can choose the best family for the child to be raised in.”