comscore Japan praises boy, rebukes parents after week-long solo forest ordeal | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
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Japan praises boy, rebukes parents after week-long solo forest ordeal

  • This undated photo released Friday by Hamawake Elementary School shows 7-year-old Yamato Tanooka, who was found safe nearly a week after he was abandoned in the forest by his parents in Nanae, Hokkaido, northern Japan. The boy’s safe return was welcomed in a nation riveted by his disappearance and undergoing intense soul-searching about how it raises and disciplines its children. This photo was taken by his school before he went missing. (Hamawake Elementary School/Kyodo News via AP)

  • Takayuki Tanooka, father of the 7-year-old Japanese boy who went missing nearly a week ago, bowed in front of media after his son was found, in Hakodate, Hokkaido Friday. The boy, missing since Saturday, was found unharmed Friday, police said, in a case that had set off a nationwide debate about parental disciplining. (Daisuke Suzuki/Kyodo News via AP)

  • A member of the Self-Defense Force showed the mattress which Yamato Tanooka, a 7-year-old Japanese boy who went missing nearly a week ago, was using inside a building in a military drill area in Shikabe town, on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, on Friday. Nearly a week after he was abandoned in the forest by his parents, the boy did not shed a tear when he was found safe Friday. (Daisuke Suzuki/Kyodo News via AP)

  • The media and members of the Self-Defence Forces stood near the building where the 7-year-old Japanese boy who went missing nearly a week ago, was found, in a military drill area in Shikabe, on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido, on Friday. The boy, missing since Saturday, was found unharmed Friday, police said, in a case that had set off a nationwide debate about parental disciplining. (Takaki Yajima/Kyodo News via AP)

TOKYO » The remarkable survival of a 7-year-old Japanese boy, abandoned in a forest by his parents who wanted to teach him a lesson, prompted nationwide joy and relief Friday. But Japanese also wondered whether the father and mother themselves need a stern lesson in parenting.

Yamato Tanooka survived alone for nearly a week by finding shelter in a military hut and drinking water from a nearby faucet until he was discovered by chance by a soldier on Friday. He looked a bit worn out but was “genki,” the military said, using a Japanese word describing healthy children. A doctor who examined him said he was dehydrated but basically fine.

But some have reacted with outrage, slamming what the parents did as inexcusable — punishing a child for misbehaving by leaving him in a forest reputedly occupied by bears on the northernmost main island of Hokkaido. The parents said they had returned after a few minutes, but couldn’t find him.

The incident was seen as underlining how isolated the nuclear family has become in modern Japanese society, with parents not getting enough advice on parenting, and the traditionally present grandma and grandpa no longer part of everyday life.

Mitsuko Tateishi, an educator who has written a book urging mothers to take it easy, said some parents are succumbing to what she calls tremendous “good-mom pressures,” such as having their children excel and measuring up to other children.

“A child is not a dog or a cat. You have to treat the child like a human individual,” she said, stressing that calm explanations of what is good versus bad is at the root of parenting, not punishing a child with abandonment.

Tateishi also believes Japan remains behind the West in protecting children, and doubts any concrete action will be taken against the parents.

“The father is probably really sorry for what he did, but he is so misguided,” she said.

Appearing outside the hospital where the boy was flown by helicopter, the father, Takayuki Tanooka, apologized, bowing deeply, thanked everyone for the rescue, and vowed to do a better job as a dad.

“We have raised him with love all along,” Tanooka said, fighting tears. “I really didn’t think it would come to that. We went too far.”

Abandonment and child abuse are far more common in Japan than the stereotype of the doting parent and stay-at-home mom would suggest. Corporal punishment in the name of discipline is common, including beatings and getting thrown out of homes in the cold.

There have been reports recently of children who were starved. Even more alarming, local school and community officials have not adequately responded to warning signs, such as a child’s bruises or extreme hunger. In one case, parents in their 20s kept their 3-year-old chained to a collar around his neck. The father was arrested.

A report by Japanese police found that child abuse is on the rise, with annually reported cases doubling to nearly 74,000 over the last decade, resulting in nearly 700 prosecutions, triple the number a decade ago, and more than 2,000 children getting placed in protective custody a year.

Yamato’s parents are not officially under any police investigation for their actions.

Yamato’s ordeal, pieced together from information from military and police teams reported by local media, was admirable for his resourcefulness and resilience.

After apparently walking for several miles, the boy found an empty hut in an unoccupied military drill area and entered a door that had been left open. The Quonset hut-style building had no heat or electricity and no food, but Yamato huddled between mattresses on the floor and drank water from the solitary faucet outside the hut for several days.

Temperatures drop in the forested area in northern Japan to below 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night, and there was rain during the week, fueling fears the boy, wearing only a T-shirt when he went missing, might die from exposure.

The soldier who found him had not been part of the search effort, but when he asked if the boy was Yamato Tanooka, the boy nodded and said, “Yup.” The soldier gave him rice balls, which he ate ravenously. When the solider suggested they should go home together, the boy nodded again and said, “Yup.”

Although going without water is dangerous even for a few days, people can survive considerably longer without food. But experts stress a water-only diet for so long must have been painful.

Daijiro Hashimoto, a former governor appearing on a talk show on TV Asahi, wondered how the boy had endured the loneliness, especially at night, and suggested that perhaps he had imagined he was on some adventure and was hiding in a secret camp.

“He had to keep a very positive attitude,” Hashimoto said, reflecting widespread sentiment here. “He is fantastic. He didn’t know how long it might take, and when he would ever be saved.”

Japanese media reports focused more on how lucky and smart the boy had been, and less on criticizing the parents. Yamato’s father said he was sorry.

“I told him I was so sorry for causing him such pain,” he told reporters.

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  • In a situation like this the media debates whether this is an individual and unique set of circumstances or whether it betokens some greater lesson or issue.

  • this kid put the Cub and Boy Scouts to shame…….maybe Yamato can get on Steve Harvey’s second season reality show “Little Big Shots” Sunday nights on NBC and tell his story?

    Yamato must have had some dry ramen or a rice ball tucked in his pants to survive (the article said he only had water…..I dispute that)….ok, ok, he only had candy in his pocket, but still….

    • I don’t know about your boy scout experience, but there aren’t improved structures with potable water out in the wilderness like that everywhere. This kid got lucky. Especially in 50 degree weather wearing just a t-shirt with cold rain. You can go weeks without food. You can only go about 3 days without any water. If the kid had a decent knife, he could manage to make an improvised camp site to get out of the rain, but that takes quite a bit of effort and training. And improvised hunting is really difficult. Movies like to make that snares are easy to build and use, but in reality they aren’t. As is making a fire with just wood. And in Hokkaido in the rainy season, making fire out of damp wood is even harder. Those military structures saved that kid’s life.

  • The boy and his parents were both very lucky and for now, things appear okay. In a society like Japan where it is very unbecoming to bring public attention to one self, especially
    in this kind of situation, wonder how the parents are very going to live this down.

  • If that hut had a phone .. he could have ordered pizza. Ha! Since the story said that they were hunting for vegetables, does that mean that vegetables could be found readily? Since there was a faucet, I’m sure that it had to be close to other facilities. Just trying to think what I would have done when I was 7. Hmmm …

  • I would guess that the same strong will that enabled his survival is equally what makes him difficult to discipline. Bless him and his parents as they move forward from this.

  • Very poor judgement by the parents in their mode of punishment. I wonder what anguish they felt for seven days wondering if their child had been snatched by bears and killed.

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