TOKYO –– A missing seven-year-old boy, who was left on a mountain roadside by his parents for misbehaving, was found unharmed after searchers spent nearly a week combing dense forest on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, officials said Friday.
He was discovered in a hut at a military exercise ground about four miles from the spot where he was left.
Takayuki Tanooka, the father of the boy, said he was “very sorry” for what happened to his son and regretted the punishment.
“I told my son that I am sorry that I made him go through a very hard situation. He nodded to me,” Tanooka said at a press conference after being reunited with his son.
“I have been raising him with lots of love,” he said, his head bowed and on the verge of tears. “I would like to pour a lot more love over him from now on, and watch him growing up.”
“I never thought the situation would develop in such a way. I thought it would be good for him, but it was too much,” he added.
Three soldiers from Japan’s Self-Defence Forces found Yamato Tanooka on the premises of the military’s Komagatake exercise field Friday morning, said Hiroki Komori, a spokesman for the Northern Army 11th Brigade.
The boy told them he was hungry. The soldiers gave him water and two rice balls, and said that the boy was fine and talking normally.
The boy told police he reached the building the first night he was missing, local media said.
He appeared to be in good condition for someone who had spent seven days without food, Dr Yoshiyuki Sakai, the doctor who examined Yamato, said at the press conference.
He spoke coherently and showed signs of mild dehydration and malnutrition; he had light scratches on his arms and legs, the doctor said.
Yamato will remain in the hospital while his internal conditions are checked, the doctor said. He was being treated intravenously for dehydration.
The small building where Yamato was found is usually used as a rest station, but hadn’t been used recently, CNN affiliate Asahi TV reported. Yamato had wrapped himself up in two of the futon mattresses that were stored inside to keep warm.
He drank water from a tap outside.
News of Yamato’s disappearance spread beyond the island nation due to its odd circumstances.
The boy’s father told authorities on May 28 that his son disappeared while picking wild vegetables with his family.
Tanooka later admitted they left him on the side of a mountain road in the woods of Nanae, home to wild bears. It was punishment for throwing stones at passing cars and people.
When his parents returned for him, the boy was gone.
Tanooka suggested the family hesitated to report him missing because of the punishment.
“I thought it might be taken as a domestic violence,” he told TV Asahi.
The lie may have put search and rescue efforts at a strategic disadvantage, said the Fire Department’s Saito.
“We cannot speak retrospectively, but we would have seen a different development if we had known the story from the beginning,” Saito said earlier this week.
Police are not currently pursuing charges against the parents.
The case has sparked debate in Japan about parenting styles. Many have been highly critical of the parents, accusing them of neglect.
But some have been more understanding.
“Disciplining children through gentle talking is ideal, but it is difficult sometimes on busy daily life,” said Kiyosihi “Big Daddy” Hayashishita, a TV celebrity with 13 children.