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7-Year-Old Survives Six Days in Forest After Parents Leave Him Alone as Punishment

Yamato Tanooka's parents left him on the side of the road to punish him for throwing rocks at people and cars in a mountainous region in Japan — but when they came back for him a few minutes later, he was gone.

by Hilary Beaumont
Jun 3 2016, 7:10pm

Photo courtesy of Kyodo

After nearly a week alone in a dense forest populated by bears, a seven-year-old Japanese boy has been found alive.

Yamato Tanooka's parents left him on the side of the road to punish him for throwing rocks at people and cars — but when they came back for him a few minutes later, he was gone.

Now the military is praising Yamato for surviving in the forest, and his story has set off a parenting debate in Japan.

At around 5 pm on May 28, his parents kicked him out of their car on the side of the road.

They last saw him at the edge of a dense forest populated by brown bears that can grow to six feet tall, though they usually keep to themselves.

Wearing only a baseball hat, t-shirt and jeans, the second-grader wandered to a military base about five kilometers away. There he found the open door to a dormitory with mattresses to sleep on and running tap water, but there was no heat in the building and nothing to eat.

The temperature in the area dropped to a chilly 7 degrees Celsius, and it rained heavily over the six days the boy was missing.

More than 180 people, some on horseback and some with search dogs in tow, desperately looked for him, according to local reports. The military joined the rescue efforts, combing the forest up to 15 kilometers away from where he was last seen.

On Friday morning, a soldier who was preparing for drills and wasn't part of the search effort found the boy in the dormitory. Yamato was a bit dehydrated with scratches on his arms and legs, but mostly healthy.

'My excessive act gave my son a very painful experience.'

The boy said he was hungry, so the soldier gave him rice balls. He was taken to hospital for a checkup after his ordeal.

According to The Asahi Shimbun, an Asian and Japanese publication, the military base was not included in the search because the gate the boy entered through is usually locked. A road connects the base with the area where the boy was last seen, though it wasn't clear whether he reached it by walking up the road or through the forest.

Yamato's parents were relieved he was found safe and sound, but his father called his attempted punishment "excessive."

"My excessive act gave my son a very painful experience," the boy's father Takayuki Tanooka told media outside the hospital, bowing his head. "I made difficulties for people of [his] school and those who searched for him. I deeply apologize to them."

"I did that in the belief that it would help my son, but now I feel that I may have overstepped my bounds." His words in Japanese were translated and reported by The Asahi Shimbun.

"I have given my love to my son until now, but I want to look over his growth now with even stronger feelings."

At first, the boy's parents told police they lost their son while foraging for edible plants in the forest, but later they admitted abandoning their child as a form of punishment. Japanese police have not yet said whether they will investigate the parents for their actions.

Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont