Living with his wife and two young children in Tokyo, Vincent Fichot was startled to return from work to an empty and silent home in August 2018.
It was the eve of his son Tsubasa’s third birthday, and he was nowhere to be found. His daughter, Kaede, was a few months old. But three years later, Fichot still has not seen their faces.
“I don’t even know if they’re dead or alive,” Fichot, 39, told VICE World News.
Fichot said his wife abducted the children after refusing to sign divorce papers two months before they disappeared. But Japan is unusual in that it does not recognize abduction by family members as a crime. Japanese law does not allow joint custody after divorce, and police are reluctant to intervene in what they consider to be family disputes.
After many failed attempts to get his case resolved in the Japanese legal system, Fichot has decided to take matters into his own hands. This time, he may have France’s head of state on his side.
When French President Emmanuel Macron attends the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, he will call for talks with Japan on parental child abductions during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, according to the Japan Times.
In June 2019, Macron met with Fichot personally on a visit to Japan for the G20 Summit and assured the father he had the French president’s “full support,” Fichot said.
To make sure he’s heard, the father has been on a hunger strike since July 10, and has been living and sleeping outside the Tokyo Olympic Stadium.
“I’m fully determined to see this through,” he said, sitting on a mat outside a bustling train station, a dozen water bottles lined behind him.
No official statistics on child abduction exist, but Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, a nonprofit organization that collects information on estranged children, estimates that around 150,000 children in Japan lose contact with a parent annually through child abduction by a parent.
The very night his children disappeared, Fichot called his lawyer to ask for help. The lawyer “casually told me my children were abducted and I would never see them again,” he said. He was also told the police likely wouldn’t care that this happened to Fichot, and when the father himself went to the police, he found his lawyer’s claims were true.
The police told Fichot that it wasn’t considered kidnapping because it was his children’s mother. He’s been to the Japanese police four times, who he claimed “threatened me with a kidnapping charge if I tried to find them,” he said.
On his 2019 visit to Japan, Macron told Fichot his situation was “unacceptable,” Fichot said. But when Macron met with then-Japanese Prime Minister Abe that night and raised his case, Abe “refused to do anything,” Fichot said.
Asked about Fichot’s case during a press conference last week, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said he’s unable to comment on it because it’s “an individual civil case.”
Having exhausted all legal avenues he can think of, Fichot said he hopes France would put more pressure on the Japanese government, perhaps by using sanctions. In any case, Fichot said he would either “leave with my children in my arms” or “leave in a box.”