Photos from Vera Mackie’s Memoirs of Reproductive Travel: Making Sense of Family Across Borders, 23 July 2015

Professor Vera Mackie


Professor Mackie’s paper focused on the Mukai/Takada case as an example of how Japanese family law is not in synch with contemporary reproductive technologies.

Memoirs of Reproductive Travel: Making Sense of Family Across Borders

Vera Mackie

University of Wollongong

Since the late twentieth century, assisted reproductive technologies have brought new challenges to the understanding of the family and gender relations in several jurisdictions. In Japan, discussion of new reproductive technologies reflects societal anxiety about matters of family, reproduction and a declining population. These anxieties are due to the ongoing problems associated with the low fertility rate, declining marriage rates, the ‘super-ageing’ society and the associated crises in the social welfare budget and the provision of care work. For some families, an apparent solution to problems with fertility and conception is to travel across national borders to countries which have different regulatory regimes, such as Thailand, India or some states in the USA. Some Japanese couples have entered into surrogacy arrangements overseas, but have then been unable to register these children in Japan. Not only have they been unable to register the children as their own, such children may be stateless if not given nationality in their country of birth, as Japanese nationality depends on being listed in a Japanese family register. The legal system thus does not have the means to handle children born of assisted reproductive technologies. Indeed, it could be argued that the failure to regulate is exactly what brings such cases into the courts. The legal record, however, provides only one ‘way of knowing’ about family. In this paper, I undertake a close reading of some memoirs about reproductive travel and its consequences, and place these memoirs in the context of current anxieties about population, family and reproduction in Japan. I consider the interaction between these texts and the circulation of medical and legal discourses on family, reproduction and population. This involves several forms of boundary-crossing: the crossing of national boundaries in order to access reproductive services that are not available in one’s home country; the crossing of boundaries of ethnicity and nationality; the crossing of disciplinary and discursive boundaries in the different professional and academic specialisations (medical and legal) which deal with new reproductive technologies; and the crossing of boundaries between official and unofficial, public and private forms of knowledge in personal interactions with the medical and legal professions.

Vera Mackie is Senior Professor of Asian Studies in the Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts at the University of Wollongong and Research Leader of the Forum on Human Rights Research. She is chief investigator, with Sarah Ferber and Nicola Marks, on an Australian Research Council Discovery Project (DP150101081)  on ‘IVF and Assisted Reproductive Technologies: The Global Experience’.