A 7-year-old boy, abandoned in a remote forest as a punishment by his parents, was found alive Thursday after spending six days alone in bear-infested woods on Hokkaido Island in northern Japan.
Yamato Tanooka only sustained minor cuts and is completely healthy, according to the authorities, though he was transported to a hospital via helicopter for a proper checkup.
More than 180 rescue workers searched for him in the deep crevices of the forest for a week, but military personnel luckily stumbled upon him in a vacant military hut just a few miles away from where his parents had left him.
The boy told authorities he had been in the area for several days. He walked inside the hut and took shelter there on Saturday night, the same day he went missing. Yamoto reportedly had no food, but a tap on the outside of the shed provided him with water.
The one-story building is usually used for military drills and training exercises.
“My excessive act forced my son to have a painful time,” his father Takayuki Tanooka said in an interview outside Hakodate hospital. “I deeply apologize to people at his school, people in the rescue operation, and everybody for causing them trouble.”
The parents initially told the police their son got lost during a hike when they were collecting wild vegetables. However, they later admitted they had dropped him off on the side of the road to punish him for throwing rocks at passing cars and people. The boy reportedly had no food or water at the time.
Tanooka has apologized to his son and the 7-year-old seems to have forgiven him, said the local media.
“We’ve raised him in a loving family, but from now on we’ll do even more to love him and keep a close watch on him as he grows up,” the father added. “Our behavior as parents went too far, and that’s something I’m extremely regretful about. I thought that what I was doing was for his own good, but, yes, I realize now that I went too far.”
A soldier, who is familiar with the building but was not there when the officials found Yamato, said the boy was “curled up” on a mattress but was not visibly injured. The soldiers apparently gave him rice balls and bread when he said he was hungry and thirsty.
It is unclear if the parents would face charges or fine for endangering their child’s life. However, considering that Japan believes in strong family values, it does not seem likely for them to go unpunished.