Boy who survived forest ordeal leaves hospital

Yamato greets the crowd as he leaves Hakodate Municipal Hospital while his parents bow. Many in Japan were angry at the couple, who abandoned their son in a forest to teach him a lesson. Police said that the parents will not face charges.
Yamato greets the crowd as he leaves Hakodate Municipal Hospital while his parents bow. Many in Japan were angry at the couple, who abandoned their son in a forest to teach him a lesson. Police said that the parents will not face charges. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • A seven-year-old boy who survived for nearly a week after being abandoned by his parents in a forest left hospital yesterday, capping a 10-day drama that captivated Japan and sparked a national conversation about child discipline.

Wearing a black baseball cap, Yamato Tanooka stopped to smile and wave to a throng of journalists and onlookers as he emerged from Hakodate Municipal Hospital on the northern island of Hokkaido.

In a scene broadcast on national television, he surveyed the crowd as he waved with one hand and held a baseball crafted out of paper that appeared to carry written messages of support with the other.

Asked by a journalist if he looked forward to returning to school, he replied enthusiastically: "I want to go!" The boy survived for six nights alone after his parents left him on a mountain road in bear-inhabited woods on May 28 as punishment for misbehaving.

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

They had originally told police that he got lost while on a family outing, but later admitted they lied because they feared social censure.

The father, 44-year-old Takayuki Tanooka, has said he, his wife and daughter returned several minutes later to the spot where Yamato was forced out of the family car, but there was no sign of him.

"I said to him, 'Dad made you go though such a hard time. I am sorry'," the elder Tanooka told broadcaster TBS in footage aired Monday.

"And then, my son said, 'You are a good dad. I forgive you'," Mr Tanooka added, choking up.

The case sparked debate in Japan about discipline, with some voices calling for understanding of parental frustration in making their kids behave, though most condemned the extent to which the boy's mother and father acted.

And though some have called for them to be prosecuted, police said that they will not face charges, a local officer said yesterday.

Mr Toru Numata, a lawyer who handles abuse and domestic violence cases, said that the focus is likely to shift to the boy's mental care, and on possible trauma from the ordeal.

After Yamato left the hospital, people took to social media to celebrate his recovery. But some expressed fatigue with the heated press coverage. "Do media need to chase him this much?" a user tweeted. "It'd be better to leave him alone."

Rescue workers and soldiers spent days scouring the mountainous forest - where bears are known to roam - after Yamato went missing 10 days ago.

He was finally discovered last Friday by a soldier, taking shelter in a hut on a military drill field around 5km from where he was abandoned.

The Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported that he meant to follow his parents' car but was crying so hard that he went the wrong way.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 08, 2016, with the headline 'Boy who survived forest ordeal leaves hospital'. Print Edition | Subscribe