The Story of Yamato Tanooka, the Japanese Boy Left in the Hokkaido Mountains
In late May 2016, Takayuki Tanooka, the father of 7 year old Hokkaido-born Yamato Tanooka, decided to punish his child after the boy had been caught misbehaving. Yamato’s punishment was to remain alone in the mountains of Nanae-cho in southern Hokkaido and learn to fend for himself among the dangers present in the limitless wilds of Japan’s northernmost island.
Yamato Tanooka in the Mountains
Yamato was abandoned by his parents in a forest near Nanae-cho’s Mt. Komagatake in the latter part of May 2016. Conditions in the area are exceptionally dangerous. The entirety of the island of Hokkaido is known for its large bear population that inhabits the woods between and near populated villages. Local residents are taught basic bear attack prevention methodology starting in elementary school, a measure which has been successful in raising awareness of the dangers of disturbing hungry bears and preventing fatal attacks throughout the island.
However, dangers still abound in the forest, especially for a young boy alone in the woods. Yamato was instructed to remain near where he was abandoned and, should he become lost, to seek shelter in a place where he could easily be found. According to Yamato’s education, he is found most easily near landmarks such as open areas between groups of trees or nearby shelter buildings.
The Boy’s Disappearance
When Takuyuki returned to bring his son home to safety, Yamato had already gone missing. Takuyuki informed the local police that his son was missing, but later informed reporters that he was unable to tell the police initially that he had purposefully left his son in the woods as a form of punishment.
Search parties were sent to find the boy for 6 days. About 180 people scoured the land surrounding Mt. Komagatake for signs of Yamato’s route and destination. News coverage continued to inform the public of each step of the search and investigation, and the public coverage compelled Takuyuki to eventually reveal that he was punishing the boy when he left Yamato to his own devices in the woods.
Discovery of Yamato
Yamato’s whereabouts were revealed 7 days following his disappearance. During an exercise that was rained out, Self-Defense Forces who were drilling in the Shikabe area sought shelter from the downpour in a military hut 5 kilometers away from the site of Yamato’s disappearance. When he was discovered, Yamato was resting, exhausted from 7 days without food. Soldiers offered him onigiri (rice balls) and bread upon finding that he had been malnourished.
A doctor examined Yamato and found that, while he has suffered from mild starvation while awaiting rescue, he was in excellent mental health and had been sustaining himself by drinking from a nearby water spigot.
Yamato told his rescuers that he had dreamt of rescue by a helicopter sent by the Self-Defense Forces before he was actually discovered by ground troops. His rescuers were touched and informed the search parties that the boy had been found. His discovery was celebrated with a thunderous applause and cheering from the crews who had spent so long looking for him.
Yamato’s parents apologized unrelentingly to both their son and the Japanese public. Takuyuki begged forgiveness and admitted that he had taken his means of punishment too far. He also apologized to the elementary school which Yamato attends, where students, teachers, and administrators alike were following the story closely. Staff had to take careful measures to reassure students who had been traumatized by Yamato’s disappearance.
“The first thing I said to him was that I was really sorry. He nodded and said OK, like he understood.”
The parents have publicly vowed to avoid extreme measures of punishment and try to foster love as a tool for parenting within the family. The uninjured and brave young Yamato Tanooka will serve as an example both of the courage of children and of the importance of parenting with positivity.