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Japanese 'Prince' Switched At Birth Was Raised A Pauper

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:

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Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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