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Paternity testing opens up a world of hurt for families — and family courts


On Jan. 7, 42-year-old actor Mikio Osawa gave a press conference in Tokyo to announce that his 17-year-old son by his ex-wife, actress Mai Kitajima, was not his — biologically, that is.

Last summer, Osawa filed a suit in family court to sever his legal relationship to the boy after he ran a DNA test that Osawa says proves he is not his father. Both Kitajima and her son, referred to by the media as A-kun, disagree.

The tabloids love this story because Osawa used to be the leader of Hikaru Genji, Johnny’s & Associates’ roller-skating boy-band juggernaut of the late ’80s, which broke up in 1994 when Osawa quit to pursue a solo career that was never half as successful. In 1996 he married Kitajima, the daughter of Yoko Naito, one of the most popular movie stars of the ’60s, after she became pregnant with A-kun. According to showbiz pundits, the marriage effectively ended his career as an idol, if it wasn’t finished already. The couple divorced in 2005 and both have since married other people.

Osawa told reporters he carried out the DNA test because he was “worried about my genetic material” after his new wife had a stillborn child, meaning he didn’t initially suspect A-kun wasn’t his son. The showbiz press, however, thinks Osawa wants to drag his ex-wife’s name through the dirt by implying that she was sleeping with someone else just before they were married, and, in fact, Kitajima has been the victim of a lot of snarky criticism on the Internet.

On the other hand, Shukan Bunshun says that after the divorce, Osawa took custody of A-kun and subjected him to abuse until he ran back to his mother. In any case, Kitajima told the women’s magazine Josei Jishin that she will not cooperate with the family court procedure.

The fact that Osawa called a press conference to discuss what most people would deem a personal matter indicates motives that probably have more to do with maintaining his celebrity than anything else, but he has also inadvertently sparked media interest in DNA testing.

A long feature in Aera explained how the procedure can now cost as little as ¥30,000, which means it’s affordable to anyone. Until three years ago, testing was almost always requested by women who wanted to confirm the paternity of their children. In some cases, they wanted to make sexual partners take responsibility for their offspring, or to prove that an ex-husband was not the father of a child they conceived with another man even if they were married at the time of the child’s conception or birth. The family registration system (koseki) deems that the legal father of a child of a married woman is that woman’s husband at the time of birth, regardless of what she says.

But Aera points out that more and more men are carrying out DNA testing on their children, usually because they suspect their wives of cheating. One testing company told Aera that three years ago, 10 percent of its customers were men. Now it’s about 30 percent, and almost all have the tests done without their wives’ knowledge.

In many cases, customers request the test during divorce proceedings because the husband suspects his wife of being with another man and doesn’t want to pay child support. If a test confirms that there is no blood relationship between the father and the child, the parental bond is dissolved administratively on the koseki and the child loses his or her right of inheritance. An article in Shukan Post claims that, according to various testing services, 1 out of 4 tests comes back “black,” meaning the child is not the biological progeny of the customer.

However, there has also been an increase in cases where men order the test because they want custody of a child after a divorce, though according to one counselor interviewed by Aera, there’s no legal advantage to testing if the relationship is already established in the koseki. There are even some men who are happily married but think that confirming the genetic link will bring them closer to their children, and she cautions that testing “opens a Pandora’s box,” and rather than strengthening family ties, the process may actually undo them. Even paternal grandparents are apparently getting in on the act: Appalled by the way their grandchildren behave, they want to check whether these kids are really their descendants.

All this scientific inquiry may be making the government nervous, since it undermines its authority in regulating connubial behavior. The Supreme Court is now pondering a case that has already gone through the Osaka court system involving a man who used to live away from his wife due to work obligations. The wife started seeing another man and became pregnant, but since the husband was visiting home on the weekends and having sex with her, he assumed the child was his. Later, the woman asked for a divorce and the husband learned about the other man. They carried out DNA testing and the results confirmed that the ex-husband was not the child’s father.

What makes this case unusual is that the plaintiff is the child. It is the ex-wife who wants to sunder the legal relationship between the child and her ex-husband, but according to Civil Code section 772, the legal father of a child as determined by the koseki is the only party who can sue to have such a relationship dissolved. Family courts will void that relationship if both parties agree to it, but in this particular case the ex-husband wants to retain paternity, so the woman’s lawyers are asserting that it is in the “child’s interest” to be legally related to the biological father.

This law was written in the 19th century as a means of establishing “legitimacy,” which can only be conferred through the koseki. But if a scientifically administered test can prove beyond a doubt who the father is, then the government loses a good deal of authority in the matter. So while men like Mikio Osawa see the technology as a means of calling out unfaithful mates, women may see it as a way of finally kicking the government out of their bedrooms.

  • “Paternity testing opens up a world of hurt for families — and family courts”

    Why is this the title of the article instead of, “Paternity testing revealing the moral failings of mothers”?

    “The family registration system (koseki) deems that the legal father of a child of a married woman is that woman’s husband at the time of birth, regardless of what she says.”

    Why is the comment “regardless what she says”? How about “regardless of what he says”?

    Men have no reproductive rights in Japan. They are treated as sperm donors and human wallets. Their pain is unacknowledged, and issues about it always get reframed, just like this article, into “her pain” or “the family’s pain” or “the pain of the children” evading the who originated the action that created this situation in the first place. This topic is always reframed into the man having to shoulder a burden that the immoral choices of others have created. Challenging these shackles are greeted with shaming by a culture afraid of admitting that for all of its focus on “getting women in the workplace” and “equality”, that the truly unequal ones before the law are men.

    What is the proper course of action for these defrauded men? They can’t have their wives put on trial for fraud and theft because the state is a happy feminist co-conspirator in assuring his bondage to her. He can’t really sue the government for what it is doing to him either. All of this is an incentive for women to continue with this behavior, and for him to take the shaming hit for her shameful actions.

    His legitimate anger and sense of injustice has no outlet, because his own rights are unrecognized by everyone. He is marginalized and alone. He has realized he is a sperm donor and human wallet, with no legal course of action open to him. When that kind of protection is shut off from him, that anger will rear it’s head in someway, like A-kun being “abused”. That abuse is not just the responsibility of the father, it is the responsibility of those who forced him into that situation to begin with: the state and the mother.

    The family unit is not a superior unit to the individual. Only individuals can have rights, and if this goes unrecognized, these kinds of problems are the inevitable result. Attempting to cover all of this up with shaming will bring only more resentment and anger, and actions arising from that resentment and anger. The culture will then yet pile on more shaming to deal with those actions, all in the attempt to evade ascribing moral agency to women.

    Of course in our woman-centric press, an article such as this has to finish with a non-objective, fully-biased flourish “…women may see it as a way of finally kicking the government out of their bedrooms.” which translates as “who cares if she wants to cheat? That is empowerment!” instead of, “Perhaps this testing will encourage the law to be amended so men become free of their status as “utilities” to others, and are recognized properly as human beings with the same rights as their partners.”.

    Or, I guess Japan can just do what France did and ban paternity testing; at least everyone can be upfront about the fraud then.

    And people wonder why fewer men are getting married and having children. Protip: It is not the media-reframed answer of “women are becoming more independent.”

  • Joie Takeuchi

    I wonder if a woman can sue a married man for not acknowledging his paternity over her child.? Can she ask for paternity testing to prove that he fathered her daughter and continously denying it just because it is not his wife’s child?

    • That sounds like the kind of meal ticket a woman having sex with a married man would probably desire.