Boy (7) left in forest as punishment found alive after six days

The boy's father Takayuki Tanooka
The boy's father Takayuki Tanooka

The tearful father of a Japanese boy left in a forest as a punishment has apologised to his son for his six-day ordeal and promised to make a better job of raising him.

Yamato Tanooka, seven, was found unharmed in an army training ground hut on Friday morning, following a massive search by police and troops on Hokkaido.

The case sparked a nationwide debate about parental discipline after Yamato's parents said they made him get out of their car on Saturday as punishment for throwing rocks at people and cars while playing at a river earlier in the day.

His parents said they returned several minutes later, but he had vanished, in an area ridden with bears on Japan's northernmost main island.

The boy was found by a soldier in a military drill area about three miles from where he disappeared and identified himself as Yamato, police said.

A military officer said the boy was found when a soldier unlocked the hut, about three miles from where he disappeared. Yamato told police he had been in the drill area for several days after walking alone in the forest.

Appearing outside the hospital where the boy was taken after he was found, his father Takayuki Tanooka said: "We have raised him with love all along.

"I really didn't think it would come to that. We went too far. I thought we were doing it for my son's own good."

Asked what he had told his son, Mr Tanooka, fighting back tears, said: "I told him I was so sorry for causing him such pain."

The boy suffered some dehydration and was getting an intravenous drIp, but besides some minor scratches on his arms and feet, no serious risks to his health were found, a doctor who had examined him told Kyodo News.

Although Japan has a reputation for spoiling children and being lax about manners, the culture is also not as progressive as the West in promoting the individual human rights of children, traditionally viewing them almost as property of the family.

Abandonment and child abuse are far more common in Japan than the stereotype of the doting parent and stay-at-home mother would suggest.