Last April I went to Japan to do research for a new documentary. The film focuses on Japanese children who grow up in orphanages and children’s homes, examining the extent to which these children are representative for Japanese culture. Ninety percent of the children growing up in children’s homes have parents who for various reasons are unable or unwilling to take care of their children. These parents give up their children while retaining custody rights, thus enabling a future family reunion. In reality however, this reunion seldom takes place. Parents rarely visit their children, sometimes never at all. In Japan, about 39.000 children live in orphanages or children’s homes. Adoption or foster care placement is not very common, on average 300-400 children are adopted per year. Unlike in the West, in Japan parents’ interests are given precedence over that of their children.
On turning 18, these children have to leave the state homes to live independently and support themselves. They have no parents or family to fall back upon and no money to pursue a further education; state support stops after they reach the age of 18. They have to find their place in a society unfamiliar to them in which they are a minority. In Japan’s group oriented society one is easily ostracized for being ‘different’. It is these children, the ones who have to leave the state homes, in whom I am particularly interested.
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