For a Tokyo man, being told by friends and neighbors that he looked nothing like his parents was a source of pain growing up, and his own suspicions that he might not be his parents’ biological son proved to be true many years later.
The man, who did not wish to be identified for this story, discovered recently that it was likely he was switched at birth five decades ago at a Tokyo hospital. And now that he is seeking out his biological parents, the hospital is refusing to help.
“I want to know who I am, and what my real parents are like. That’s all I want,” the man said. “I can’t get my life back anymore, but at least I want to see my real parents.”
The man recalls that as a child he looked desperately for any signs of resemblance to his family members.
When he was a boy, the family learned that his blood type was different from everyone else’s. The father, believing his wife had an affair, left home, and the couple divorced.
His mother remarried, but life remained difficult. The man said he had to give up going to high school since his stepfather could not afford to pay for his schooling.
It was in November 2015 that his mother first shared with him her suspicion that he might have been switched at birth and that they might not be related by blood.
The man was not surprised. “I knew it,” he recalled thinking.
The mother told him she had repeatedly contacted Juntendo University Hospital, a well-known hospital in Tokyo where the mix-up likely occurred, but was turned away at the door. She then decided to raise him as her own child.
Soon after the mother’s revelation, the man and mother took a DNA test, which showed a zero percent possibility of a parent-child relationship. “I was stunned and speechless,” he said.
The man went to the hospital in 2016, demanding it look into the matter and disclose information about his real parents.
The hospital admitted that switching of newborns may have occurred but withheld information about his biological parents, explaining to him that doing so might disrupt their lives. Having failed to convince hospital officials, the man eventually accepted a cash settlement.
“I do not want to destroy the other family’s happiness. But at least I want to see (my parents’) photos. If they are already dead, I want to visit their graves,” he said.
His story was made public only recently. Following a magazine report, the hospital announced on its website earlier this month that it was highly likely that newborns were switched at its facility where midwives used to write the mother’s name on the sole of a baby’s foot after their first bath.
Newborns are now fitted with an identification band shortly after birth in front of their mother.
The hospital said that it has narrowed down his potential biological parents based on past medical records but decided not to inform them for fear that doing so could mar the lives they have built for the last 50 years.
The story has attracted widespread media coverage and the man hopes that one day his biological parents will come forward. He wants the hospital to formally apologize and take measures so similar incidents will not happen again.
The man also has a deep appreciation for the woman who raised him, now 76. “She raised me even though she knew I was not her real child. I want to repay her by getting her reunited with her real child while she is still in good health.”
The man has urged the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry and the Japan Medical Association to verify the mistake and take preventive measures.