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A Japanese man switched at birth and raised in poverty has been awarded damages by the courts to compensate for the opportunities he lost by being separated from his wealthy and educated birth parents.

"I feel ... regret and also anger," the impoverished truck driver said at a press conference, NBC World News reported. "I want them to turn back the clock."

The Japanese man was just awarded damages after having proven that he was switched at birth, being raised on welfare checks in a 100-square-foot apartment by a single mother after his supposed father died.

The family he was born into lived a life of privilege, with first-class educations, and the boy he was switched with is now the president of a real estate company — one man's tragedy being another's serendipity.

"When I found out about my true parents, I wish I was brought up by them," he said. "That's the truth. When I was handed the photograph of my (real) parents, it made me want to see them. Every time I see their photograph, for several months tears would well up," the man said.

"Tokyo's San-Ikukai Hospital was on Tuesday ordered by a court to pay the man 38 million yen ($371,233) in damages, significantly less than the 250 million yen ($2.5 million) he had been seeking," NBC reported.

"Questions were only raised when the three brothers of the man who was given to the wealthy family recently realised that he bore little resemblance to any of his relatives," The Telegraph (UK) reported. "In 2011, the family requested access to hospital records and DNA tests subsequently confirmed the mistake. The error apparently happened when a midwife took the new-born babies away to be bathed and then returned them to the wrong mothers."

A classic motif, the story is reminiscent of Gilbert & Sullivan's "HMS Pinafore," in which a former nursemaid confesses that when she was young and "practiced baby-farming" she accidentally switched two babies at birth. One was "of low condition," the other "a regular patrician." Of the switched babies, one became the ship's captain, the other a common sailor on the same ship.

The mixup also recalls, on a more serious note, a formula offered by the philosopher John Rawls in "A Theory of Justice." Rawls suggests a hypothetical "veil of ignorance" before birth, in which no one knows his or her position in this life. Gender, race, social status, parentage or even what generation of history they would occupy are all hidden. Rawls then asks how we would want a society structured, if we didn't know where we would land.

For at least one truck driver and one real estate magnate in Japan, Rawls' question is now hardly hypothetical.

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