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Update: How the Japanese Boy Left in the Woods Survived

Jun 06, 2016 05:31 AM EDT
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Deep in the woods
Without any food or water, Yamato Tanooka took the path down the mountainous forest instead of the road. He came across the entrance gate to a self-defense force training ground in Shikabe town in Hokkaido.
(Photo : Christian Scheja / Flickr)

Yamato Tanooka, who had been missing for almost a week in a forest, managed to survive without food and water and wearing only a t-shirt, sneakers and a pair of jeans.

More than six days after his parents left him in a forest in Hokkaido as a punishment for misbehaving, seven-year-old Yamato Tanooka was found alive and unhurt on Friday morning in a military barracks 5 km from where he was last seen.

While Yamato, who suffered minor scratches and exhaustion, was being kept in the hospital, details of his ordeal in the bear-infested forest emerged. And his survival was quite extraordinary.

With no food and water, Yamato took the path down the mountainous forest instead of the road. He came across the entrance gate to a self-defense force training ground in Shikabe town in Hokkaido.

According to a report in The Guardian, he either climbed the fence or went through the bushes to get to the military hut, which became his home for the next few days. The hut, which could have been locked when not being used by soldiers, was fortunately open. Outside the hut was a solitary faucet, and this became his only source of sustenance as there was no food anywhere.

Three soldiers from the 28th Infantry Regimen at a nearby camp in Hakodate were seeking shelter from the rain early Friday morning. They opened the door of the hut to find Yamato curled on a mattress. To keep warm during the night, he said he would huddle between two mattresses.

The soldier asked him: "Are you Yamato?"

The boy, who did not shed a single tear upon seeing a rescuer, gave a composed answer: "Yes, I am."

According to the soldier, who had not been part of any previous efforts, Yamato looked a bit worn out but was "genki," which is a Japanese word that describes healthy children.

The soldiers gave him two rice balls, which the boy ate ravenously, and called for a helicopter to take the boy to Hakodate Hospital.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, Yamato had suffered from mild dehydration and malnutrition, and had a mild rash and scratches on his arms and legs. There were no serious health risks found, and the boy is incredibly calm and showed no signs of panic, the doctors said.

Parental discipline should have limits

This incident had prompted a debate in Japan about how parental discipline can get out of hand and turn into abuse. The whole nation - and even the world - was riveted by his disappearance, and questions were raised about the extent on which parents should discipline their child.

Takayuki Tanooka, 44, admitted that he had gone too far when he let his son out of the car and abandoned him in the woods. When he returned to get him, he was gone. He said he apologized to the boy upon his family's visit in the hospital.

"We've raised him in a loving family, but from now on we'll try to do a better job and give him even more attention as he grows up," he said in an article in The Guardian. "Our behavior as parents was excessive, and that's something I'm extremely regretful about. I thought that what I was doing was for his own good, but, yes, I realize now that I went too far."

But Yamato's discovery wasn't enough to quell criticisms thrown at the boy's parents. People have taken to social media to express their anger and disbelief at the actions of Yamato's parents, some saying that the boy could have been "heartbroken at being discarded in the mountains" and others debating whether the boy should be given back to his parents.

According to Kyodo News, police are considering filing neglect charges against the boy's parents, but it's still not clear as to when they are planning to take action.

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