This article explores the legal norms and regulatory mechanisms in Japan that structure child welfare placement decisions, focusing specifically on the legal category of “parental rights.” It is suggested that the ways child welfare officers and caregivers understand the concept of “rights”—both those of the biological parent(s) and the child—construe kinship relationships as problems to be managed, but with a particular orientation toward what is called in the article the temporality of attachment. Child welfare caseworkers’ understandings of legal categories, processes, and forms of documentation (such as the Japanese family registry) produce particular forms of kinship that prioritize a child's possible future relationship with an absent parent, above and beyond the day-to-day relationships children might develop with alternative caregivers such as foster parents. Despite the fact that the author's Japanese interlocutors often described kinship as an immutable relationship of blood ties, the author shows how kinship is in fact produced through specific encounters between (mostly absent) parents and their children, child welfare caseworkers, and foster and institutional caregivers, scaffolded by their engagement with legal and bureaucratic regimes. The article explores what parenthood means within Japanese child welfare, both as a temporalized form of relationality and as a set of legally structured claims to the right to care.

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