A 2-year-old boy who went missing three days ago was found uninjured Wednesday morning not far from where he was last seen on a western Japan island, police said.
Yoshiki Fujimoto of Hofu, Yamaguchi Prefecture, was found by a search volunteer on a mountain in the town of Suo-Oshima on Yashirojima, according to the police. The site was only 560 meters from his great-grandfather's house where he had been visiting for the summer.
The volunteer, Haruo Obata, had been calling out Yoshiki's name at around 6:30 a.m. when he heard a voice reply, "I'm here." The 78-year-old found the boy barefooted and sitting near a stream, and wrapped him in a towel before carrying him down to his family.
"It had been three days and I had pretty much lost hope, so when he opened his eyes and looked at me, I was overcome with emotion," Yoshiki's mother Mio said. "I was so scared, though Yoshiki must have been even more scared."
"I am glad a precious life has been saved," said Obata, who came from Oita Prefecture to join the search that began Tuesday. The volunteer said it became clear Yoshiki was in good condition when the boy eagerly ate the candy offered to him.
(Volunteer Obata speaks to reporters after finding the missing boy)
A doctor who conducted a checkup said that while Yoshiki has no notable injuries, he showed symptoms of dehydration and should be hospitalized for the remainder of the week.
"I was surprised to find him in good health. I think he has a strong capacity for survival," said the doctor, Yoshimasa Takenoshita.
Yoshiki arrived at his great-grandfather's home on Sunday morning with his family, and went missing after heading for a beach about 400 meters away with his grandfather Masanori and three-year-old brother. He was wearing a T-shirt, swimming trunks and sandals.
After about 100 meters, Yoshiki tried to return to the house on his own but subsequently disappeared, the police said. He turned two years old while he was missing as his birthday was on Monday.
(Masanori Fujimoto, the boy's grandfather, speaks to media after the 2-year-old was found)
"I would like to thank the police, rescuers and local people," said Masanori. "I apologize as it was I who took my eyes off him."
Mio said the family plans to belatedly celebrate Yoshiki's birthday with a cake made of ice cream, one of his favorite foods.
The area where Yoshiki was found, located above a tangerine orchard, was somewhere not many local people would go, a man living nearby said.
Some 140 police and rescue personnel had been mobilized to search for the boy.
The weather was stable in the area for most of the period he was missing, with the lowest temperature at 24 C and the highest at 34 C. It rained intermittently on Wednesday morning, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency.
(Mio, the boy's mother)
"A toddler who just turned two spending three days alone is just unthinkable," said Shinichi Nishino, 44, a nurse and head of a nonprofit organization supporting childrearing in Osaka.
"I have no idea how he spent the days but there is a possibility that he survived by drinking mountain runoff," Nishino said, adding, "I can only call this an astonishing survival ability in a child."
The discovery of the toddler brought relief to rescuers and local people who had heard his mother call out to him through a public address system the day before.
"I am glad he was found. I have a child of similar age so I could imagine a similar thing happening to my family," said a 39-year-old man from Hiroshima who was visiting his parents' home near the site.
(Obata shows where he found Yoshiki)