The Two-Way
12:27 pm
Fri November 29, 2013

Japanese 'Prince' Switched At Birth Was Raised A Pauper

Originally published on Fri November 29, 2013 6:49 pm

What happens when you find out that the life you've lived could have been better — much better? That's what a 60-year-old Japanese truck driver had to grapple with when he discovered he was switched at birth after being born to a rich family.

The man, who has chosen to remain anonymous, was raised by a single mother in a 100-square-foot apartment. A court ruled Tuesday that a social welfare organization that ran the hospital where the mix-up occurred must pay him about $317,000 for causing "mental distress by depriving him of an opportunity to gain a higher education."

The truck driver has chosen to remain anonymous. The boy who was raised in his place by the rich family became the president of a real estate company.

"I am relieved by the court's decision to acknowledge our demands," the truck driver was quoted as saying by his lawyer after the ruling.

The Asahi Shimbun reports:

"The man's biological parents sent their four sons, including the one involved in the mix-up, to private high schools and universities.

"The plaintiff landed a job at a small workshop after graduating from junior high school. He later attended industrial high school night classes and now works as a truck driver. His biological parents died before the hospital mistake was uncovered. ...

"The court said the results of a DNA test in January 2009 confirmed the mix-up 60 years ago. The ruling follows a long search by the man's real brothers who doubted their oldest brother was a blood relative based on his appearance.

"According to the ruling, the man was born in March 1953 at San-Ikukai Hospital in Tokyo's Sumida Ward. The hospital is operated by San-Ikukai, a social welfare corporation in the same ward.

"Hospital staff mistook him for the son of a couple whose real son was born 13 minutes after he was delivered.

"After the man's 'father' died in 1955, his 'mother' raised him and two real sons while on welfare."

"It's really the tale of a prince and a pauper," reporter Lucy Craft tells NPR's Ari Shapiro, guest host of All Things Considered.

At a news conference this week, the truck driver said he wished he could "turn the clock back. ... When I learned about my real parents two years ago, I thought, oh, how I wish they had raised me."

But Lucy notes that he's shown such "grace and humility" through the process that many people have expressed sympathy for him.

"He says he feels grateful to both the family that raised him and to his birth parents, and he also says he feels no enmity or resentment or bitterness toward the boy who switched places with him," Lucy says. "He said we're both victims in this. I can't be angry at him."

The story has also reignited the nature vs. nurture debate, with, as Lucy points out, many people saying that "this is proof positive that it doesn't matter what your background is, nature cannot overcome nurture, and people who are born into poverty are doomed to stay there."

The heart-wrenching story coincides with a Japanese film that explores the theme of what would happen if two families discovered that their children were switched at birth.

Like Father, Like Son won the Jury Prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival. Here's the trailer:

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now, the story of two children switched at birth. In Tokyo, a court has ordered a hospital to pay damages to a 60-year-old man who recently discovered that he was sent home from the hospital with the wrong parents. The man's biological family was wealthy. The family that took him home was poor. The judge in the case found that the hospital mix-up deprived the man of an opportunity to gain a higher education and has ordered the operator of the hospital to pay some $300,000.

For more on the story, we've called Lucy Craft in Tokyo. Take us back 60 years ago. What happened when this man went home from the hospital with the wrong parents? Where did his life go from there?

LUCY CRAFT, BYLINE: Yeah. It's really the tale of a prince and a pauper. There were two babies born within a few minutes of each other. Both of them ended up going home with the wrong mother. And in one family, the father dies fairly young, single mother struggles to raise three boys on welfare. They're stuck in a tiny apartment. It's only 100 square feet.

Meanwhile, the other boy grows up in a big house, a garden with a pond, tutors, private university. He grows up and becomes the president of a real estate company and boy number one starts working at a factory after junior high school to support his family and life kind of goes downhill from there.

SHAPIRO: And the man who was raised poor became a truck driver, who has asked to remain anonymous, gave a news conference this week. Tell us a little bit about what he said.

CRAFT: It was a very emotional news conference. He was telling this harrowing story.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking foreign language)

CRAFT: He says March 30th, 1953, my birthday, I want to turn the clock back to that time. When I learned about my real parents two years ago, I thought, oh, how I wish they had raised me. It's just impossible to understand what this person was going through and that's part of the reason people have expressed so much sympathy for him. He's shown so much grace and humility considering this horrendous experience he's going through.

SHAPIRO: Did he say anything about how he feels towards the family that raised him?

CRAFT: Yes. He says he feels grateful to both the family that raised him and to his birth parents. And he also says he feels no enmity or resentment or bitterness towards the boy who switched places with him. He said we're both victims in this, so I can't be angry at him.

SHAPIRO: Do we know how the mix-up happened?

CRAFT: We don't know the details and unfortunately the people who perpetrated this tragedy are long gone from the scene. But NHK, the state broadcasting network, dug up some records from something called the Japanese Society of Legal Medicine and they found that between 1957 and 1971, this is shortly after this person's case occurred, 32 cases of switched babies were recorded. So it's something that happened with awful regularity, apparently.

SHAPIRO: Wow. And how did the story of this switch come out more than half a century later?

CRAFT: In 2009, after the parents, the rich parents died, the - the four surviving brothers, I should say, the three younger ones became suspicious of the eldest brother. He didn't resemble them in any way. And so they decided to check him out and they did DNA sampling and they found that the DNA didn't match.

They went back to the hospital. They checked the records. They tracked down the other brother and got his DNA sample and then their suspicions were confirmed.

SHAPIRO: You know, in the United States, despite talk of income inequality, we have this ethos that anyone can grow up to become anything despite the circumstances of their birth and their childhood. Does the same exist in Japan?

CRAFT: Well, a lot bloggers have posted about this. They've pointed out that this boy did show a lot more initiative than the family he was raised with. While everyone else stopped their schooling at junior high, he went on to pay for and put himself through vocational school, but he ended up, in the end, just being a truck driver.

And a lot of people have said that this is proof positive that it doesn't matter what your background is, nature cannot overcome nurture, and people who are born into poverty are doomed to stay there. This isn't completely true. One of the richest men in Japan, (unintelligible) also comes from very humble beginnings. But certainly for the majority of people in Japan this is certainly the case.

SHAPIRO: Reporter Lucy Craft in Tokyo. Thanks so much, Lucy.

CRAFT: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.