HOKKAIDO (TR) – Alone in the bear-inhabited woods of Nanae, 7-year-old Yamato Tanooka kept walking for hours until he found a disused military facility and survived only on tap water. He wouldn’t know that he was at the center of a dramatic search watched by the world until his rescue nearly a week later, when headlines screamed the boy was abandoned there by his parents as punishment.
Young Yamato blames himself for what he went through, reportedly telling his 44-year-old father Takayuki Tanooka at the hospital, “I was wrong, I didn’t listen to what my dad was saying.”
But shock and dismay quickly spread over the actions of his parents, with Japanese netizens taking to Twitter and blogs to condemn them as they called for disciplinary action. Daytime talk shows and pundits followed suit — prominent education expert Naoki Ogi even said the parents would “probably be arrested.”
The Asahi Shimbun reported on Monday (June 6) that police will not be looking into the parents in terms of criminal liability, but added officers referred the case to the Hokkaido local government’s child consultation center over the possibility of psychological abuse.
“Under the child abuse prevention law, any suspicion of abuse is reported immediately,” local media quoted authorities as saying. “The judgement was reached that the abandonment (of Yamato) on a woodland path constituted the possibility of psychological abuse.”
According to Yukan Fuji, a child welfare officer from the center is expected to question Yamato’s parents in the near future.
“I was alone”
Details of Yamato’s experiences are slowly emerging.
Media quoted Yamato as telling his parents at the hospital, “I walked along on my own after I had to get out of the car.”
“I rested and rested as I walked, and eventually reached (the Ground Self-Defense Forces facility) on the same day when it was dark,” Yamato said. “It was cold, so I went inside to go to sleep.”
“I went outside during the day when the weather was good,” Yamato said. “At night, I slept inside on white (mattresses).
“I was alone until I was found.”
According to Yukan Fuji, Yamato kept believing that “someone will surely come save me” as he survived only on water from a faucet.
Media reports said a decision was made on Monday to discharge Yamato from the hospital because he was recovering steadily.
Wept as car faded
TBS News reported that someone who met with Yamato on Sunday heard the boy say he started weeping when the car faded into the distance. He lost his sense of direction after he wiped his tears away, and ended up walking along a road in front of him — toward the GSDF facility.
His father Takayuki returned five minutes later, but went looking for Yamato in the opposite direction.
Yamato was discovered six days later and rushed to a hospital, where he was diagnosed with malnutrition and mild dehydration but was otherwise in decent shape.