3. The Day Trip that Became a Ten-Year Nightmare

A mother is driven to despair over disappearance of husband and daughter

On November 11, 1999, the 32-year-old father of a family living in Tokyo took his one-and-a-half-year-old daughter on a trip to the home of the child's grandparents about an hour away in Saitama prefecture. He was expected home later the same day, but he never returned, and more than six months went by without so much as a phone call from him to the child's mother.

The circumstances of the case left no doubt that the grandparents were involved in the disappearance. The grandparents had strongly opposed their son's decision to participate in an International and Cross-Cultural Marriage Blessing Ceremony of the Unification Church. During their engagement, his future bride was never allowed to enter the home of her future in-laws. After the marriage and the birth of their first child, the grandparents' attitude softened somewhat, but the mother was still not welcome in the grandparents' home.

In mid-October, 1999, the child's father sent the grandparents a booklet published by the church. This led to a phone call from the grandmother saying she had read the material but had some questions. She wanted him to come home to Saitama and explain certain points to her directly. The man was happy to take advantage of every opportunity to increase his parents' understanding of his faith, and so he told his mother to expect him on November 13.

That evening, when her daughter and husband failed to return, the mother of the family tried several times to call the grandparents' home, but there was no answer. Pregnant with her second child, the mother had a friend drive her to Saitama. Only a day before, the grandparents had told their son, "The whole family will be here to see you," but when the mother arrived at the grandparents' home she found it completely dark and locked up. The afternoon newspaper was still in the mailbox.

Later that night, she received a phone call from the child's grandfather, saying, "We're having a discussion with our son."

The mother pointed out that her husband's calendar had entries regarding business appointments for the next day and beyond, and so she found it unlikely that he had consented to this "discussion."

On the 15th, the wife went to the police and filed missing person reports for her husband and daughter. She called her husband's office, and asked his colleagues to notify her if they should hear anything. She also sent a letter to the grandfather by certified mail.

"I am six-months pregnant," she said in the letter, "and it is difficult for me to live without my husband's help. My husband does not hold up well under stress and is very sensitive. He has a history of being treated time to time for chest pains. Our daughter has a cold, and is being seen by a doctor. I ask you to please let my husband and daughter go."

She put together a package of clothing and medicine for the two and mailed this to the grandparents' home. One day, she discovered that the grandparents had put an answering machine on their home phone, so she recorded a message, saying, "Please let my husband and daughter come home."

Two weeks after the disappearance, she received a letter from the grandfather by special delivery. It said, "This discussion will not end easily." The letter did not tell her where her husband and daughter were, when they might come home, or anything else she wanted to know.

It is difficult to imagine what must have been going through the mother's mind during this ordeal.

"I cannot put it in words," she told this reporter. "There are no words to express what I was feeling." When she would ride the train, it would bring tears to her eyes to think that this might the train that her husband and daughter had taken on their way to Saitama. She could not bear to look at small children, because they would remind her of her own missing child.

Forty days passed. Christmas decorations were put up all around town, and the joy of the season was everywhere. The wife's heart, though, was in deep despair. She would try writing letters to her husband, but they always read like suicide notes.

She tore them all up, except for a few that she still keeps.

"I cannot imagine life without you and [their daughter]," she wrote. "I can't go on any longer. If I live any longer, I will have to start hating your parents. So ... If I were not alive, it would take some of the load off of your shoulders. I'm sorry.

"I can't stand to be in our home. Everywhere I look I am reminded of you and [their daughter], and it hurts so much that I can't stop crying. When our daughter is old enough to understand, please tell her about me.

"I love you. But I'm sorry. Please take care of your health. I wanted to be with you a little longer. But if that is not possible, ... I am just happy that I could be your wife even for a short while."

Another letter was addressed to her daughter.

"I'm sorry. I would have like to watch you grow up. It seems like only yesterday that you were born and I heard your first cry. The sound of your cry moved me so much my eyes were filled with tears. Time passed, and your neck grew strong enough to support your head. You began to crawl, and then you could walk by holding onto things. I can't express in words how cute you were when you took your first steps.

"At the day care center, you were loved by several different teachers, and you made me so proud. When I would go to pick you up, you would come to me as fast as you could, and we would go down the steps together. I still remember the warmth of your hand. I never imagined you would one day be taken from me by your grandfather and grandmother.

"I can't live without you and your father. I tried my best, but I've reached my limit. Please forgive me. I wanted to take you many more places and tell you many more stories. ... Please live your life strongly and with enthusiasm to make up for the years that I could not live. And help your father. I am happy that I could get to know you. Thank you very much."

She determined many times to take her own life. The only reason she could never do it was that she was carrying her second child in her womb.

"The baby would send me a strong message, saying, 'I'm alive,' and that was what stopped me from taking that final step," she says.

In 2000 the wife filed a petition in the Urawa District Court seeking a provisional injunction for her in-laws to return her daughter to her, but the other party did not appear in court for the hearing. She also sent a petition addressed directly to Commissioner-General Setsuo Tanaka of the National Police Agency, but nothing she did seemed to be of any use.

Still determined to have her life with her first child back, the mother initiated a civil trial in Tokyo District Court seeking damages from her in-laws for disrupting the marital relationship and violating her parental rights. At first, her husband did not come to court. Around August 2000, however, after she filed a second petition, her husband came to court accompanied by lawyer Hiroshi Yamaguchi. She was able to see her husband for the first time since his sudden disappearance.

There was something odd about him, though. At times, he behaved in ways suggesting he was clearly conscious of lawyer Yamaguchi's presence. There were opportunities for the husband and wife to meet alone in a room inside the courthouse. During these meetings the husband would speak in a loud voice, even though they sat close enough that they could hear each other by speaking in a normal tone. It was as if he wanted to make sure that lawyer Yamaguchi could hear him from outside the room.

As these face-to-face meetings continued over a period of time, the wife noticed that her husband would contradict himself from one meeting to another. He often struggled to answer even simple questions. Then in a later meeting he would give a clear answer, as though he had been coached by his lawyer or others in the meantime.

She also felt lawyer Yamaguchi's influence when her husband submitted a demand that the Unification Church refund all the money he had contributed over the years. The bank account where the money was to be wired was in the lawyer's name.

Eventually the husband, who had been forced into renouncing his faith, submitted a petition for divorce. The wife objected, but the court ruled against her.

She managed to secure once-a-month visitation rights, so there would be time for the wife, husband and their daughter to meet.

The wife, though, was an amateur going up against a professional. She later realized her biggest mistake was to allow the settlement to contain language saying the visitations would be held "taking the child's growth into consideration."

When a visitation was about to occur, the child said in a tone suggesting she had been coached, "I don't want to see my mother." The husband's side used this statement to claim further meetings would be "detrimental to the child's growth," and the mother never saw her child again.

Ten years have passed since the sudden disappearance of her husband and first daughter. Her second daughter, born during the time she was struggling with feelings of despair, is now nine years old.

This daughter started out extremely shy. She joined the local church choir when she was in the first grade, but the first time she had to stand on stage with the choir, she refused to let go of her mother's hand. Finally, her mother stood on stage with her, hiding behind the piano.

Now the daughter has no problem singing in front of people, and she is a member of the church's Sun Hak choir. The mother feels indescribable inspiration to hear her daughter sing with a loud, clear voice and an expression filled with divine beauty.

She says she tells herself, "I have to work hard so she can grow up and receive the marriage blessing in the church." Raising a child alone, she is challenged financially. But that is not her greatest worry.

I asked her when it is the most difficult for her.

She replied, "Every moment is difficult. My child hasn't had a father since even before she was born. But she doesn't seem to feel anything strange about the absence of a father. For me, this is difficult for me to bear.

"Some time ago, when we were on our way to church, my daughter turned to me and said, ''Mommy, wouldn't it be nice to have a baby? I want a baby brother. Please make one.' I didn't know what to tell her. As time goes on and she start to understand more things, I'm not sure how I am going to tell her."

She still uses her former husband's last name.

"I still believe that someday he will come back to me with our older daughter," she said. "Our family has been torn apart, but my dream, my hope, is that someday we can be together again."

Japan Victims' Association against Religious Kidnapping & Forced Conversion