HAKODATE, HOKKAIDO - A 7-year-old boy was found dehydrated and hungry but otherwise healthy early Friday morning, six days after he went missing on a mountain in Hokkaido.
Yamato Tanooka was discovered by Self-Defense Forces personnel at an exercise area in the town of Shikabe, Hokkaido, 5 kilometers from where he was last seen.
The boy was found squeezed into a pile of mattresses in a Quonset-type hut that troops on a training exercise entered because it was raining.
The SDF said the site was checked on Monday morning, but the boy was not found.
Yamato told police he reached the camp on Saturday after pushing through forest.
“I didn’t have food so I just drank water,” police quoted him saying. There was a tap outside the hut.
One of the troops offered him rice balls, which he ate hungrily.
He was taken to a hospital in Hakodate in an apparent state of exhaustion. He was placed on an intravenous drip as he had symptoms of mild dehydration and hypothermia, a doctor there said. He had minor scratches on his arms and legs but was otherwise unharmed.
It was at the hospital that he was reunited with his parents and sister.
His father later told reporters he regretted the incident.
“I feel very sorry for the boy as I came down on him hard,” Takayuki Tanooka said.
He said he had apologized to Yamato. He also extended an apology to the Japanese public, acknowledging that he had “gone too far” in leaving the boy alone. He added, he had meant the best for his son.
When told that the boy had been found alive, troops involved in the search burst into applause. At his elementary school in the town of Hokuto, Hokkaido, pupils shouted in joy when the news was announced to an assembly of all 900 students.
The school’s principal and Yamato’s class teacher headed to the hospital to visit Yamato.
“I want to tell him that he did a great job and was brave,” said Yoshitaka Sawada, the vice-principal.
Tanooka’s parents told police they told the boy to get out of their car on a remote mountain road to teach him a lesson after he had thrown stones at people and cars. They drove on and then returned, to find no sign of him.
A massive manhunt involving hundreds of police, firefighters and SDF personnel took place across rough, densely foliated terrain. Police deployed a helicopter on Monday, while firefighters rode horses along forest paths as they shouted the boy’s name.
The search had been scaled back by Friday because no trace of him was found.
Tanooka’s parents initially told police the boy had gone missing when they were walking in the Nanae area to pick wild vegetables. They later admitted that they had left him there and drove off “to scare him a little bit.”
The family searched for him for about half an hour before contacting police.
His father told reporters they did not admit the truth at first because they were ashamed at what they had done.