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Hokkaido boy's rescue draws wild cheers; father apologizes

Takayuki Tanooka, the father of the 7-year-old boy who was found safe, speaks to reporters in Hakodate, Hokkaido, on June 3, 2016. (Mainichi)

HAKODATE, Hokkaido -- The father of a 7-year-old boy who was found safe on the morning of June 3 after remaining missing for six days in a mountain forest in Hokkaido, apologized profusely for forcing his son to go through such hardship.

The second-grader, Yamato Tanooka, was found at a Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) exercise area in the town of Shikabe, about 6 to 7 kilometers from the town of Nanae where he was last seen late on the afternoon of May 28 after being left alone by his parents as a punishment for misbehaving. His return to safety drew wild cheers from school officials, fellow students and neighbors as well as members of his search-and-rescue team.

The boy's father, Takayuki Tanooka, told reporters in front of the city-run Hatodate Hospital that he met his son and said he was sorry for giving the boy a hard time. Yamato nodded his head, the father said, adding he will try to give his son more love than before.

Tanooka and his family from the Hokkaido city of Hokuto drove off leaving Yamato in a mountain forest at around 5 p.m. on May 28 to punish him for misbehaving. When Tanooka returned shortly afterward, Yamato was not in sight.

A woman in the family's neighborhood commented, ''I'm glad he was found alive. He really did his best to hang in there. I'm really glad from the bottom of my heart.'' She says she has often seen him play catch with his father.

Yoshitaka Sawada, 48, vice principal of the Hokuto city Hamawake Elementary School, of which Yamato is a student, said he was really relieved to learn that the second-grader was found safe. Principal Tatsuya Kudo convened a special school assembly to announce Yamato's safe discovery. Schoolchildren cheered and clapped their hands. The school postponed an athletic meet scheduled for June 5 to pray for the boy's safe return.

After Yamato went missing, police, firefighters and local government employees combed the mountain forests. GSDF personnel joined the search on June 1. As many as 200 search-and-rescue members hunted for the boy at one point before the search mission's size was reduced on June 3.

When the search-and-rescue team was preparing to resume their search at 9 a.m. on June 3, Yamato's grandfather and others contacted the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) just after 8:20 a.m. to inquire if Hokkaido Prefectural Police notification to Yamato's mother that the boy had been found was for real.

When the SDF confirmed the information, rescue members happily clapped their hands and smiled. A member of the SDF said, ''To be honest, I really felt a sense of relief.''

Firefighter Kozo Shibata, 36, who had participated in the search over the past several days, commented, ''I planned to continue searching until he was found. The search was very tough because it was a riparian and grassy area.''

According to Yoshiyuki Sakai, a pediatrician at Hakodate Hospital who tended to Yamato, the boy was brought to the hospital without major injuries and only suffered minor dehydration and malnutrition as well as light cuts on his arms and legs.

This photo shows the interior of a Ground Self-Defense Force facility in Shikabe, Hokkaido, where Yamato Tanooka, 7, was found safe on June 3, 2016. (Mainichi)

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