Japanese boy leaves hospital after forest ordeal

Shingo Ito, Harumi Ozawa

A seven-year-old boy who survived for nearly a week after being abandoned by his parents in a forest left hospital on Tuesday, capping a drama that captivated Japan and sparked a debate about child discipline.

Police said the parents would not face charges for leaving Yamato Tanooka as a punishment for throwing stones despite widespread public anger at their action.

Yamato was cheerful when he emerged from Hakodate Municipal Hospital on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Wearing a black baseball cap, he stopped to smile and wave to a throng of journalists and onlookers.

He held a baseball crafted out of paper that appeared to carry written messages of support.

Asked by a journalist what he wanted to do, he shouted, "Baseball!" Queried about returning to school, he replied enthusiastically, "I want to go!"

After a few minutes, which included applause, his father ushered him into a van and they drove off.

The boy survived for six nights alone after his parents left him on a mountain road on May 28 in woods which are home to brown bears.

- 'I walked alone' -

Many in Japan were angry at the couple, who said they had forced their son out of the car to teach him a lesson after he had thrown stones at cars and people.

The father said they went back five minutes later to retrieve him but their son was nowhere to be seen.

The case sparked debate in Japan about parental discipline, with some calling for understanding of their frustration though most condemned their excessive response.

And though some have called for them to be prosecuted, police said they will not face charges, according to a local officer Tuesday.

"We plan not to regard it as a criminal case," a Hokkaido police spokesman told AFP, indicating it would be referred to social services.

Toru Numata, a lawyer who handles abuse and domestic violence cases, told AFP: "Considering the factors behind the case, the chances of making it a prosecutable one are extremely slim."

Numata said the focus was likely to shift to the boy's mental health, and on possible trauma from the ordeal.

After Yamato left the hospital, people took to social media to celebrate his recovery, with one person tweeting: "Good he was safe... Please give him lots of love."

But some expressed fatigue with the heated press coverage.

"Do media need to chase him this much?" a user tweeted. "It'd be better to leave him alone."

Rescue workers and soldiers spent days scouring the mountainous forest after Yamato went missing.

He was finally discovered last Friday by a soldier, sheltering in a hut on a military drill field around five kilometres (three miles) from where he was abandoned.

The boy was suffering from mild dehydration and was taken to hospital.

Police questioned him for about an hour in hospital on Monday accompanied by his mother and doctors, the Tokyo Shimbun reported.

He was quoted by the daily as telling police: "I walked alone and met no one", adding that he sometimes stopped to rest and arrived at the hut in the dark.

Yamato kept himself warm there during the chilly northern nights by sleeping between two mattresses and drank water from an outside tap, though he had nothing solid to eat.

His father, 44-year-old Takayuki Tanooka, said in comments broadcast Monday that he apologised to his son and that the boy had forgiven him.

"I said to him, 'Dad made you go though such a hard time. I am sorry'," the elder Tanooka told broadcaster TBS in footage aired Monday.

"And then, my son said, 'You are a good dad. I forgive you'," Tanooka added, choking up.