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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Adoption in Japan

養子縁組

Adoption is called yohshi-engumi in Japanese, and has a long history. Provisions for adoption are found in the Taiho Code of 702, influenced by the practice of adoption in China, where it was used to ensure a male heir.

 Until the Meiji era of Japanese history, adoption was a much-used device of mainly the aristocracy to ensure—as in China—the succession of the family’s wealth, power and status. Adoption was freely used by ancient Japanese nobles to cement their lineage, and could lead to quite complex relationships between those involved, with even cases such as a childless elder brother adopting a younger brother as his heir.

 As the lower classes began to prosper, adoption was extended to them as well. In this case, too, adoption was solely for the benefit of the family. Adoption for the benefit of the child, i.e., to provide an orphan with a loving home, is a relatively recent innovation, in both the East and the West, and only became fully enshrined in law in Japan in 1988 (although it had been possible since 1946 under laws revised according to the new Constitution).

 In Japan, the decision to be adopted can be made independently by anyone 15 years or older. The only stricture besides that on who can adopt who is that of relative age: the adoptee must be younger than the adopter.

 Adoption in Japan is still used mainly for reasons of family continuity. A bride’s parents will often adopt her husband in a practice known as muko-yohshi (“husband adoption”), thus making the husband a legitimate child and heir presumptive. It is also quite common for grandparents to adopt a grandchild in order to avoid the grandchild having to pay the higher inheritance tax that grandchildren are burdened with compared to that for children. Adoption is also used in cases of surrogate birth but, because the child is under 15, it takes the form of what is called special adoption (tokubetsu yohshi-engumi), performed by court order rather than as a contract.

 Another common instance of adoption in Japan is as an alternative to same-sex marriage—a device that was often used in Europe, too, before the advent of same-sex civil unions and same-sex marriage there. Adoption is the closest you can legally get to same-sex marriage in Japan, and is a solution where the rights of a couple to shared property would otherwise not be recognized, especially in regard to inheritance claims.

Applying for adoption in Japan is a very simple process involving just a single form, personal identification (such as driver’s licence or zairyu card), and two witnesses. Adoption happens at the offices of the local authority, such as a city hall or ward office, and takes about half an hour—most of which is waiting time while the paperwork is completed. Both parties must be Japanese citizens.

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