Missing Hokkaido boy leaves hospital, ending 10-day drama

AFP-JIJI, AP, Kyodo, Staff Report

A 7-year-old boy who survived for nearly a week after being left by his parents on a Hokkaido mountain road was discharged from a hospital in Hakodate on Tuesday, capping a 10-day drama that captivated Japan and sparked a national conversation about child discipline.

Wearing a Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters baseball cap, Yamato Tanooka emerged from Hakodate Municipal Hospital at about 2 p.m. and appeared in good spirits as he stopped to smile and wave to a throng of waiting journalists and onlookers.

In a scene broadcast on national television, he surveyed the crowd as he waved with one hand and held a greeting card in the shape of an oversized baseball.

“I’m alright,” he responded when asked how he was feeling.

He said he wants to go back to school soon and is looking forward to participating in an upcoming sports day.

Before leaving the hospital, his father, Takayuki Tanooka, 44, bowed to the cameras and said, “Thank you.”

The boy survived six nights alone after his parents left him on a mountain road in bear-inhabited woods on May 28 as punishment for misbehaving.

He was found in a hut at a Ground Self-Defense Force training facility in Shikabe, Hokkaido, on Friday morning, six days after he was reported missing and about 5 km from where he was last seen. He was suffering from mild dehydration and minor bruises on an arm and both of his legs, even though he had not eaten and had drank only water.

Many in Japan were angry at the couple, who said they had forced their son out of their car to teach him a lesson after he threw stones at cars and people.

They had originally told police he got lost while on a family outing collecting plants in the forest but later admitted they had lied because they feared social censure.

The case, which attracted global media attention, also sparked debate about what is considered to be excessive in disciplining children.

Despite some calls for the parents to be prosecuted over the boy’s ordeal, the police said Monday they do not intend to press charges for child neglect.

The Hokkaido Prefectural Police said they interviewed the boy for about an hour and found that his story did not contradict what his parents had told investigators.

According to some media reports, the police have referred the parents to a local child guidance center based on the child abuse prevention law.

But Miki Kurotatsu of the Hakodate Children’s Welfare Center declined comment to the Associated Press on Tuesday on whether the center had received a report from the police because it was a private matter.

The elder Tanooka said Tuesday that the boy is in good shape now, and with the support of his school counselor he will prepare to return to school at an early date.

The father previously apologized for what he admitted were his “excessive” actions in punishing the boy and said Monday that his son has forgiven him. “I said to him: ‘Dad made you go through such a hard time. I am sorry,’ ” the elder Tanooka told TBS TV in footage aired Monday.

“And then my son said, ‘You are a good dad. I forgive you,’ ” Tanooka added, choking up.

The boy said he went out during the day and slept on mattresses in the GSDF facility, according to the police.

Naoko Fukaura, an associate professor of developmental psychology at Sapporo International Junior College, said the boy should receive long-term care because he may be psychologically affected later.

“Shortly after having a scary experience, children try not to remember it and tend to behave cheerfully. But this does not mean they are resistant to stress,” she said.