Missing boy case sparks debate over disciplining of children in Japan

Yamato Tanooka is pictured on an evening newspaper at a subway station kiosk in Tokyo, Japan on June 3, 2016.
Yamato Tanooka is pictured on an evening newspaper at a subway station kiosk in Tokyo, Japan on June 3, 2016.PHOTO: EPA
Yamato Tanooka (above) was left behind by his parents on a mountain road for misbehaving.
Yamato Tanooka (above) was left behind by his parents on a mountain road for misbehaving.PHOTO: REUTERS
Takayuki Tanooka, father of Yamato Tanooka, speaks to reporters in Hakodate on June 3, 2016.
Takayuki Tanooka, father of Yamato Tanooka, speaks to reporters in Hakodate on June 3, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - The abandonment of a seven-year-old Japanese boy on a mountain road for misbehaving has sparked a national debate, with some expressing anger and others sympathy for the pressures parents face in disciplining their children.

Yamato Tanooka was discovered alive and well early on Friday (June 3) after spending nearly a week sheltered alone on a military base just a few kilometres from where he was forced out of the family car for misbehaving.

While views outside Japan persist of a hardworking people raised under a tough samurai-style discipline, the reality is far more nuanced. As in much of the developed world, Japanese parents too have become more indulgent towards their children in recent decades, to the point that older generations complain the country has gone soft.

 

Japanese reacted with outrage on social media after news emerged of what happened last Saturday, with the actions of the parents roundly condemned as "abuse" and them being described as "stupid" for what they had done.

And though there was a national sigh of relief after the boy's rescue, opinions remained harsh.

"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.

The father, Mr Takayuki Tanooka, admitted that what he did was wrong, apologising in front of reporters after being reunited with his son, and decrying his own action as "excessive".

He and his wife had originally fabricated a story that the child got lost on a family outing in the mountains, not wanting to own up to having meted out such a harsh punishment.

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," Mr Ogi wrote earlier this week on his widely followed blog.

"Surely, they will be arrested soon," he added.

But he also said that many adults had told him they too as children were abandoned by their parents as a form of punishment.

"This is apparently not unusual!!" he wrote.

While many social critics, television personalities and others have condemned the parents, some were quick to sympathise over frustration related to child-rearing and discussed their own experiences of tough parental love.

"Should we call all forms of strict disciplining abuse?" said one tweet.

"If you were his parents, would you never keep a distance from your child or even abandon them?

"This case could be a chance to think about how we engage with children."

Another Twitter user expressed sympathy with the father, whose impulsive decision to momentarily punish his son turned into a nightmare.

"Many say the father in the Hokkaido abandonment case is scum, but he was not going to go home without the child."

Mr Ogi on Friday softened his tone somewhat, recognising that the entire family needs psychological care as they start the healing process after their ordeal.

"How much distrust is Yamato feeling toward his parents?" Mr Ogi asked in a fresh blog post.

"I hope experts will offer adequate care and careful counselling to all members of the family."