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Abandoned as punishment? Japanese boy's disappearance sparks questions.

The disappearance, and eventual safe return, of a young Japanese boy prompted a national conversation in Japan over parental discipline and childrearing.

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    Seven-year-old Yamato Tanooka, who went missing on Saturday after being left behind by his parents, was found alive at Japan Ground Self-Defense Force's Komagatake exercise area, in Shikabe town on the northernmost Japanese main island of Hokkaido, Japan.
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A young Japanese boy whose parents briefly left him in the woods has been found safe.

The story of Yamato Tanooka's disappearance, and his eventual rescue, gripped Japan and prompted a national conversation about parenting and childrearing. Yamato's parents left him in the woods on Saturday in a remote area of Hokkaido island as punishment for several minutes, but were unable to find him.

Yamato's disappearance prompted national soul-searching in Japan. Vocal critics condemned the parents' actions, but others were more sympathetic.

"Every parent may have disciplined kids this way," one father, who declined to be named, told The Japan Times. "Everywhere on the street you see parents telling their children that they will leave them there if they don't stop crying. What happened to the Hokkaido boy was similar to that – the only difference was that it happened in the mountains."

Other parents, particularly ex-pats, were more critical of both the parents and, at times, what they consider common parenting issues in Japan.

"I do believe many parents lack adequate mental support and help in Japan," Vivian Morelli, a Canadian journalist based in Tokyo, told The Japan Times. "I think that could lead to child abuse, like in this case. For parents to get to that point, it's not just bad parenting, it's a deeper issue ... involving psychological troubles."

Yamato's father, Takayuki Tanooka, was deeply apologetic for his actions.  "We have raised him with love all along," Mr. Tanooka said. "I really didn't think it would come to that. We went too far."

"I have poured all my love into my son, but from now on, I would want to do more, together with him," Tanooka said at a news conference, according to the BBC. "I would like to protect him while he grows up."

Throughout the ordeal, Yamato expressed remarkable resilience, military officials said. The boy found an abandoned military hut in the woods and survived there without heat, electricity, or food. Local media reported that he found water from a single faucet outside the hut.

A doctor who examined Yamato said on Japanese television that the boy did not appear to have any serious health concerns as a result of his experience, only looking dehydrated and slightly scratched. Military officials noted Yamato's stamina: he was found far from the site where his parents left him, and up a steep hill. Japanese police and military combed the area throughout the week looking for him.

"He had to keep a very positive attitude. He is fantastic," Daijiro Hashimoto, a former governor, said, on TV Asahi. "He didn't know how long it might take, and when he would ever be saved."

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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