A Japanese boy who was found after being lost in a bear-infested forest for six days when his parents tried to discipline him has been rushed to hospital.Yamato Tanooka, seven, had been missing since Saturday, when his parents made him get out of their car as punishment for misbehaving, leaving him behind in a wooded area on Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost main island.
On Friday he was found alive at an old Self-Defense Forces training facility in the town of Shikabe, Hokkaido, about five kilometres from where he disappeared. He was taken to Hakodate Hospital by helicopter suffering from exhaustion, after five days without food. Here he was reunited with his parents.
In an interview with TV Asahi after the child was found, his father Takayuki Tanooka revealed that he had ‘apologised to Yamato’. ‘First of all, it’s really great he is safe. I can’t find words. It’s good.’Local media reported the boy survived by sleeping between two mattresses inside the abandoned military facility.
He told police had had been drinking water from a tap outside the building while he was staying inside the military base.Dr. Yoshiyuki Sakai, the doctor who examined Yamato the child appeared to be in a good condition for a boy who had not had food for six days.
The seven-year-old was suffering mild dehydration and malnutrition, and had a mild rash and scratches on his arms and legs, the doctor said.The boy told the police that he walked to the SDF facility on his own through the mountains, investigators said.
‘One of our soldiers was preparing for drills this morning and unlocked the door of a building on the base, and there he was,’ a member of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces .’When he asked ‘are you Yamato?’ the boy said yes. Then he said he was hungry, so the soldier gave him some water, bread and riceballs.’
In the forest where the seven-year-old spent six days on his own, overnight temperatures dropped to 7 degrees, and there had been heavy rainfall in recent days. The boy’s father Takayuki Tanooka earlier said: ‘We have done an unforgivable thing to our child and we have caused a lot of trouble for everyone. I just hope he is safe.’
More than 180 rescuers, including soldiers, were scouring the Higashionuma area where the parents said they dropped the boy off.There were no signs of the boy or any eyewitness reports of him, according to police.
Bears are sometimes seen in the mountains of Hokkaido, but an attack by one of the animals is unlikely because none has been spotted in the area, the authorities said. The boy’s mysterious disappearance had captured international attention, with many praying for his safe return.
Many people bitterly criticised the parents, triggering a debate over whether their treatment of the boy was discipline or child abuse.The parents initially said he disappeared while they were picking wild vegetables.Later they admitted they made him get out of the car as ‘discipline’ after he threw stones at people during a visit to a park.
Mr Tanooka said the boy was gone when he drove back to the spot a few minutes later.Police said they are considering whether the parents should be charged with child abandonment.’Making children obey by giving them fear or pain is bad parenting, it’s abuse,’ Naoki Ogi, a professor of education at Hosei University, said in his blog.
Most people on social media rebuked the parents as neglectful.’If he was actually throwing stones at cars, that shows there wasn’t a lot of discipline anyway – and probably not enough love either,’ said one person.’Whatever the result, this is parental neglect. It’s cold in the Hokkaido mountains, and I hear there are bears, too,’ said another person.
The Higashionuma area is so remote residents of the Nanae region, just north of the city of Hakodate, say they rarely travel through it. Yamato was last seen wearing a T-shirt and jeans in an area where the overnight temperatures can fall as low as 7C (45F).
Yamato is not a common child’s name in Japan. It is a name for ancient Japan and a famous battleship, the Yamato, sank in April 1945 with the loss of 3,000 sailors after going on a final ‘suicide mission’ at the end of World War II.