Yamato Tanooka, a seven-year-old Japanese boy, spent six days in a forest, surviving on tap water.
He was not on a camping adventure; he had been left alone by his parents, who wanted to discipline him, in a vast forest area in northern Hokkaido, a north-eastern island in Japan.
When soldiers found him Friday—dehydrated, hungry but mostly unharmed—there was public outrage as Japanese condemned the action of the parents as “abuse”.
The case has ignited a national debate about what constitutes acceptable child disciplinary measures.
Although the father, Takayuki Tanooka, told reporters after he was reunited with Yamato that “I thought we were doing it for my son's own good. I told him I was so sorry for causing him such pain,” people were unwilling to accept his answer.
“Missing boy was found and that's all wonderful, but the parents must be disciplined such as being abandoned on an uninhabited island,” read a Japanese-language tweet.
Among the most notable opinion leaders critical of the parents was prominent education expert Naoki Ogi.
“The parents who put him in this situation must be harshly condemned,” Ogi wrote earlier this week on his widely followed blog. “Surely, they will be arrested soon,” he added.
The parenting styles of previous generations in Japan were tough and disciplinarian. Ogi said many adults had told him they too as children were abandoned by their parents as a form of punishment.
THE LONG ROAD TO OBEDIENCE
Initially, the parents had told the police Yamato got lost while they were out hiking to gather wild vegetables along with their daughter. Later they admitted they were angry with him for throwing stones.
They ordered him onto the road, bounded on both sides by thick mountain forests, and quickly returned only to find him missing.
Days of frantic searching found no trace of the child. The search team, comprising hundreds of people, combed through the bear-inhabited forest area. Military support was requested four days into the search.
The boy was found early Friday morning by soldiers, five kilometres away from the site of his disappearance. He was inside a single-storey building located on exercise grounds in Shikabe, Hokkaido.
Police said he was lucid and told the soldiers he was hungry; the men then fed Yamato rice balls and bread.
Yamato was found unharmed aside from minor scratches and dehydration for which he received an intravenous drip after he was airlifted to a hospital where he is being kept overnight.
“We have raised him with love all along. I really didn’t think it would come to that, we went too far,” said Tanooka.
He went on to apologise to those involved in rescue efforts. “I deeply apologise to people at his school, people in the rescue operation, and everybody for causing them trouble.”
The parents could face negligence charges according to police.
Recently another set of parents faced possible charges and public outcry when their four-year-old son managed to slip into a gorilla’s enclosure in Cincinnati Zoo on May 28.
The gorilla was shot dead by zoo authorities who deemed the situation too tricky to use tranquilisers which take a few minutes to kick in.