Missing boy case sparks debate in Japan

Yamato Tanooka, pictured in a newspaper at a subway kiosk in Tokyo on Friday, was left alone in a forest by his parents as a punishment.
Yamato Tanooka, pictured in a newspaper at a subway kiosk in Tokyo on Friday, was left alone in a forest by his parents as a punishment.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Disciplining in the spotlight as some slam child's parents while others offer sympathy

TOKYO • 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 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 hard-working 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.

Some Japanese reacted with outrage on social media after news emerged of what happened on May 28, with the parents' actions roundly condemned as "abuse" and them being described as "stupid" for what they had done.

DISCIPLINE - TWO VIEWS

Should we call all forms of strict disciplining abuse? 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.

A TWEET, sympathetic to the parents.



The punishment these parents chose is unthinkable. They have no idea how to raise a child. They did not try to explain what was right and wrong. A child is not a dog or a cat. You have to treat the child like an individual human being.

MITSUKO TATEISHI, an educator.

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 by 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 last week on his widely followed blog. "Surely, they will be arrested soon."

Yet, the duo were not officially under any police investigation for their actions, media reported yesterday.

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."

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 towards 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."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 05, 2016, with the headline 'Missing boy case sparks debate in Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe