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US Military in Japan Fails Children Abandoned by its Servicemen

The US military must take responsibility for its troops and the children born from sexual relations in Japan. Tokyo must also represent its citizens better.



Japan US memorial ceremony at Iwo Jima in December 11, 2021.

The United States and Japan are now in the eighth decade of their alliance, which went into effect on April 28, 1952. The bilateral security relationship has become particularly close in recent years. It contributes greatly to the peace and prosperity of both countries, the region, and the world. Unfortunately, there is one aspect that regularly undermines this relationship. That is the issue of male US military service members impregnating Japanese women and fleeing the country or otherwise not taking responsibility. 

Not only this, but the US government does nothing to help the mothers or children. The children are American citizens based on jus sanguinis. The principle holds that the country of citizenship of a child is the same as that of his/her parents.

This is not a new problem. Whether by rape or consensual sex, it has happened since US troops first landed during the Battle of Okinawa and continues today after so-called one-night stands or as a result of dating. 

Abandoned by Their American Fathers

There have been tens of thousands of children born between US personnel and Japanese women, many of whom are married and raise the children together. However, there have also been thousands of children born out of wedlock who do not receive childcare support or even American citizenship. This happens as the father abandoned the mother either before or after the birth before any official paperwork was submitted.

Sometimes these men were unaware of the pregnancy. But in many other cases, they were informed and chose, for whatever reason, to leave. 

The mothers often do not speak sufficient English. This makes it hard to locate the fathers or otherwise contact them. Sometimes they have no concrete information about their whereabouts. Many children, therefore, have grown up not knowing who their fathers are. As they are mixed race, many of the children have faced teasing and bullying for being "hafu" or other names.

US military
An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter conducts operations near Mt Fuji, Japan, on Nov 16, 2022. (© US Department of Defense by Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ange-Olivier Clement)

Betrayal, Injustice, and Disappointment

Sadly, this continues today. Even worse, the US government — the American Embassy in Tokyo, the handful of US consulates around the country, or the commands of the bases of the respective military services—does not lift a finger to help the mothers or the children. As mentioned, these children are American citizens but do not have the paperwork to prove it.

In the case of the US military, when a command representative does answer the phone or an email from the mother or her representative, they will cite a regulation saying they cannot do anything as it is a personal matter between the man and the woman. Or they may say that they cannot give out the contact information of service members for privacy reasons.

This adds a layer of betrayal, injustice, and disappointment to an already frustrated mother. Her family and friends become embittered too at the treatment by the military.

Damaging to the Bilateral Relationship

The US government's stance is illogical, inhumane, and counterproductive, as it unnecessarily damages the bilateral relationship and harms the children.

It is illogical in that the personnel member was in Japan on military orders. Therefore, the command is responsible, both legally and morally, for his conduct in the country. When a military member commits a crime in Japan, for example, he or she is, in principle, subject to the laws of the host country as stated in the Status of Forces Agreement

The personnel member is turned over to local authorities in criminal cases upon indictment. This could be earlier depending on the nature of the alleged crime. What is more, he or she can be arrested off base if found in the act of committing a crime. 

US military
Service members learn kanji as part of a cultural exchange during Yama Sakura at Camp Higashi-Chitose, Japan, on Dec 1, 2022. Yama Sakura is a bilateral US Army and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force exercise. (© US Department of Defense by Army National Guard Sgt Randall Corpuz)

Eroding Trust in the United States

Abandoning a family, not paying childcare support, not appearing in family court after a subpoena, etc, are all unlawful, or criminal, in nature. That the US military leadership does nothing to have its service members comply is unfortunate in the extreme. It also suggests that the US government tolerates this behavior, further eroding trust in the United States.

I have personally been involved in assisting in nearly one dozen cases in recent years in a volunteer capacity. Although there have been individual commanders who have helped, in general, the US military is guilty of non-cooperation and being cold and heartless to the women in question and the individuals helping them. 

This causes the women to either spend many stressful years trying to secure justice, sometimes at a great economic cost, or to abandon hope altogether. It almost seems that that is what the US military seeks.

The US government should proactively require military services to address the problem in Japan before it further harms the relationship or becomes such a hot topic as to require amending the SOFA.


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Robert D Eldridge

Robert D Eldridge, PhD, is the author of "The Origins of the Bilateral Okinawa Problem" (Routledge) and served as the political adviser to the US Marine Corps in Japan.

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