Tennessee Man Jailed In Japan: ‘I Want Americans To Know What’s Happening To Me’

By: Kyung Lah
By: Kyung Lah

YANAGAWA, Japan (CNN) — Wearing a Nashville School of Law T-shirt, Christopher Savoie walked into a second-floor police interrogation room. In one corner, a stopwatch was running to hold him to the 15 minutes of allotted time.

“I’m so scared,” he said.

Savoie chose his words carefully, lest police Officer Toshihiro Tanaka cut short the rare interview he was granted with CNN on Thursday. There were so many rules: No recording devices. No tough questions; speak only in Japanese.

“I want Americans to know what’s happening to me,” Savoie continued in Japanese. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Children have the right to see both parents. It’s very important for my children to know both parents.”

But Japanese authorities disagree.

They have charged Savoie, 38, a Tennessee native and naturalized Japanese citizen, with kidnapping his two children — 8-year-old Isaac and 6-year-old Rebecca — as his ex-wife was walking them to school here, a rural town in southern Japan.

He headed for the nearest U.S. consulate in the city of Fukuoka to try to obtain passports for them, screaming at the guards to let him in the compound. He was steps away from the front gate but still standing on Japanese soil.

Japanese police, alerted by Savoie’s ex-wife, arrested him Monday.

Savoie was divorced from his wife, Noriko, in January after 14 years of marriage. He had visitation rights with his children but after he returned from a short summer trip to Rhode Island, his ex-wife fled to Japan with the children, according to court documents. A United States court then granted sole custody to Savoie.

Japanese law, however, recognizes Noriko as the primary custodian, regardless of the U.S. court order.

A 1980 The Hague Convention standardized laws on international child abduction, but Japan is not a party to that agreement.

If a child here is taken against the wishes of the recognized Japanese parent, the person who took the child is considered an abductor.

“Japanese people think she’s the victim here,” Savoie said. “In the States, my ex-wife is the one who’s in the wrong.”

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley recognized this case as a difficult one. Even though America has strong ties with Japan, on this particular issue, the two nations could not have two more differing points of view, he said.

In Yanagawa, those who have heard about the abduction case, tend to side against Savoie.

“They belong with their real mother,” said one woman, herself a mother of two children.

Savoie’s attorney, Tadashi Yoshino, knows the cultural divide will be hard to overcome.

“He technically may have committed a crime according to Japanese law but he shouldn’t be indicted,” Yoshino said. “He did it for the love of his children.”

Savoie, a law student who already has a Ph.D and a M.D., will spend 10 days in jail while Japanese prosecutors sort out the details of the case.

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