Friday 13 December 2019

Boy missing in Japan is found safe

Yamato Tanooka (7) was discovered sleeping on a mattress by military personnel. Photo: Getty
Yamato Tanooka (7) was discovered sleeping on a mattress by military personnel. Photo: Getty

Julian Ryall

A boy missing for nearly a week in the mountains of northern Japan has been found alive.

The seven-year-old child was found by defence personnel curled up on a mattress in a building in a military drill area, four miles from where he was left, in the town of Shikabe at around 7.50am.

The boy introduced himself at Yamato Tanooka and told the soldiers he was hungry and thirsty, before he was given rice balls and bread.

Although he had no visible injuries, the boy - who also reportedly told officers he had been in the same place for several days - was flown by helicopter to hospital in the city of Hakodate, where he is undergoing tests.

"A Self-Defence Force official who was on a drill found a boy whose age appeared to be seven," a police spokesman said.

"There was no conspicuous external injury, and the boy introduced himself as Yamato Tanooka."

The boy’s father, Takayuki Tanooka. Photo: AP
The boy’s father, Takayuki Tanooka. Photo: AP

Shortly after the boy was reunited with his family, his father, Takayuki Tanooka, described how he had immediately told his son how sorry he was for leaving him behind.

"The first thing I did was apologise to him for causing such an awful memory for him," Mr Tanooka told media outside the hospital.

"The first thing I said to him was that I was really sorry. He nodded and said 'OK'."

He added: "My excessive act forced my son to have a painful time. I deeply apologise to people at his school, people in the rescue operation, and everybody for causing them trouble.

"We - well, we loved him before - but I hope to give him even more attention now."

Yamato was left in a forest on Hokkaido, Japan's most northerly main island, on May 28 by his parents as punishment for throwing stones at cars and people during a family day out.

The boy's parents initially claimed he had wandered off while they were gathering mountain vegetables.

Takayuki Tanooka later admitted to misleading police. He said he and his wife stopped their car on a road, ordered Yamato out as punishment and drove off. They stopped the vehicle less then half a mile away and walked back to where they had left the boy, but he had disappeared.

Mr Tanooka claimed he was gone for only five minutes. In an interview, he added that he did not dare tell the truth when he asked the police to begin a search for his son.

He later said: "We have done an unforgivable thing to our child and we have caused a lot of trouble for everyone. "I just hope he is safe".

More than 200 rescue workers, mounted police and local civilians scoured the forests for the last six days.

Temperatures dropped to just 6C at night and the area had heavy rain over the last few days. An additional concern was the possibility that the boy had encountered one of the region's Ussuri brown bears. The bears can be extremely aggressive and three men were killed in bear attacks in northern Japan in May.

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