To the relief of the nation, a 7-year old Japanese boy, who was left behind temporarily in a wooded area in Hokkaido by his parents as punishment for misbehaviour and who subsequently went missing, has been found. The father has apologised to his son as well as to all who were involved in the search saying that he had gone too far.
The boy had been left behind on a wooded road in Nanae on May 28 as a disciplinary action for throwing stones at cars and pedestrians. Since then more than 180 people, including police and armed forces had been searching for him.
According to the police announcement, Yamato was found at about 7:50am. in a billet curled up between 2 mattresses.
A Self Defence personnel, who was not involved in the search stumbled across the boy at the Ground Self-defence facility at Komagatake Exercise area in the town of Shikabe about 3 miles north-east from the area from where Yamato had gone missing.
When asked whether he was Yamato the boy nodded. “Let’s go home as everybody is worried,” the officer told him.
Yamato was wearing a T-shirt and sweat pants and looked a bit exhausted but healthy. The second-year primary school student from Hokotu told personnel that he had initially run after his father’s car but then got confused and started walking the other way. He said that he had walked all the way through woods when he came upon the billet. Finding it unlocked he had taken shelter there. He said that he had spent six days just drinking tap water which was available outside the billet and that he had slept in between the 2 mattresses to escape the cold.
Yamato said that he was hungry and was given bread and rice balls to eat and then airlifted to the Hakodate Municipal Hospital where he was given a drip. Doctors said that apart from slight dehydration, a rash and some scratches on his face and arms, he was in a good condition. The boy has been discharged by the hospital.
Yamato was travelling by car to a park in Shikabe with his parents and elder sister, who is also a primary school student, on the afternoon of May 28, when his parents took him out of the car for throwing stones at cars and pedestrians. They left him alone on the mountain forest road as a punishment. However, after going ahead for not more than 500 meters, when they returned to pick him up just a few minutes later, they could not find him.
For fear of societal shame parents had initially told the police that they ‘got separated’ from Yamato while they were collecting wild plants. Later, they told the police that they had left him behind as ‘a disciplinary step’.
The area where Yamato was left behind is wooded and rainy. Temperatures hover around 5 to 7 degrees Celsius. It is also inhabited by bears.
The abandonment of the boy in a lonely, wooded area sparked a national outrage and debate on parental pressures and disciplinary measures for children. Many said that as children, they too had been meted out punishments like being sent out of the house to discipline them, to no great harm. Others labelled the parents as monster parents.
Yamato’s father Takayuki Tanooka, 44, who met his son after 6 anxious days told reporters, “I made Yamato suffer due to my excessive behaviour. I caused all the trouble to people at school and those who searched for him. I deeply apologise.”
“I’m so relieved that my son survived. I’m filled with a feeling of gratitude to those who were involved in the search for him,” Tanooka said emotionally as he bowed deeply.
According to Tanooka, he also apologised to his son for coming down so hard on him, to which his son responded by nodding.
About leaving his son in the mountains as punishment Tanooka told reporters: “I never imagined it could develop into a situation like this. I did it for the sake of my son, but now I think it was too much. I’ll give him my affection and watch over him.”
According to Tanooka his son has forgiven him. The police too are not going to take any action against him.
All’s well that ends well.