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Missing Japanese Boy Found Healthy and Hungry

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In this undated photo released Friday, 7-year-old Yamato Tanooka was shown at his elementary school. He was found safe Friday nearly a week after he was abandoned in the forest by his parents in northern Japan. (Hamawake Elementary School/Kyodo News via AP)
In this undated photo released Friday, 7-year-old Yamato Tanooka was shown at his elementary school. He was found safe Friday nearly a week after he was abandoned in the forest by his parents in northern Japan. (Hamawake Elementary School/Kyodo News via AP)

Six days after being abandoned by his parents in a forest, a 7-year-old Japanese boy was found safe and hungry Friday.

Yamato Tanooka was found by chance in a military hut by a soldier who was not part of the large search party.

The soldier gave him two rice balls, which Tanooka ate quickly. The military said he was tired and hungry, but “genki.” That is the Japanese word for full of energy.

It was the best possible outcome in a case that was covered 24 hours a day by Japanese news media. The boy won praise for being resourceful – finding a hut for shelter and keeping warm in the unheated hut by lying between two mattresses.

He had no food, but drank water from a faucet outside the hut, the Japanese military said.

His parents said they abandoned him last Saturday to punish him for throwing rocks at people and cars. The father, Takayuki Tanooka, said he returned a few minutes later, but could not find the boy.

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

In a nationally televised news conference, a doctor said the boy was dehydrated and had minor cuts on his arms and feet. But the doctor said he had no serious health problems.

Until he was found Friday, there was great concern about the boy, missing in a forest that is home to bears.

Asked what did he told his son after he was found, the father said, “I told him I was so sorry for causing him such pain.”

The parents’ way of punishing their son drew debate in Japan about how to raise children.

Mitsuko Tateishi is an educator who wrote a book about good parenting. She told the Associated Press that many parents are competitive in wanting their children to do well. Many need help from more experienced parents about how to set limits.

“The punishment this parent chose is unthinkable,” Tateishi told AP. “They have no idea how to raise a child. They did not try to explain what was right and wrong.”

She doubted the parents who abandoned their son will be charged with a crime.

Janet Rosenzweig, vice president for research at Prevent Child Abuse America, understands parents get uneasy when children do not behave.

“But I can’t think of anything worse than abandoning a child in a strange and unknown place,” Rosenzweig said. She said children suffer emotionally when they are abandoned, or even warned that their parents might leave them behind.

But the damage is more than emotional, she said. “With modern science, we know that traumatic stress washes a kid’s brain and blocks intellectual growth,” Rosenzweig said.

I'm Bruce Alpert.

Fern Robinson reported on this story for VOANews.com. Bruce Alpert adapted this story for Learning English, with additional information from the Associated Press. Kathleen Struck was the editor.

Write to us in the Comments, and share your views on our Facebook page. What would you do if you were lost in a forest? Do you think you’d be as resourceful as 7-year-old Yamato Tanooka?

Words in This Story

abandon v. to leave someone behind

hutn. a small and simple house or building

outcome n. something that happens as a result of an activity or process

resourcefuladj. able to deal well with new or difficult situations and to find solutions to problems

dehydratedadj. to lose too much water

traumatic stressn. a state of mental tension and worry caused by problems in your life

intellectualadj. of or relating to the ability to think in a logical way

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