Tanooka's survival seems to have come down to a few extremely lucky twists

By Alex Heigl
Updated June 03, 2016 01:05 PM
Credit: TV Asahi

Yamato Tanooka spent six nights in a forest in northern Japan, on the island of Hokkaido, before being found by military personnel with little to no injury.

The question of how Tanooka, 7, survived six nights alone in the wilderness appears to have come down to mostly luck. For one thing, although Hokkaido is slightly cooler than the rest of Japan, and located on the coast of the Uchiura Bay, its temperatures are still averaging in the 50s, and the past week has seen overnight lows in only the low 50s.

For another, Tanooka stumbled across the military hut where he spent the majority of his stay just over three miles from where his parents forced him out of their car Saturday. Humans average about three miles an hour by walking speed; Kunio Noguchi, head of a mountain climbing group, told The Asahi Shimbun that the distance “can be covered in three or four hours of vigorous walking. [Tanooka] may have reached it rather soon after he went missing.”

Another stroke of luck: The door to the corrugated-iron military hut where he passed the nights had been left unlocked. Earlier on, he would have come across a gate that indicated the area was a military training ground; how directly that led him to the cabin is unclear. The cabin was furnished with two mattresses, which Tanooka wedged himself between at nights to keep warm, between that and a tap providing water outside, he was in relatively good shape for a short stay.

That said, Tanooka was unlucky in at least one way: For one, search parties actually skipped the military training ground in their initial sweep of the area, because the gate to the area is usually secured. It’s unclear whether it was open or Tanooka scaled the fence. And while reports have variously referred to the forest as “bear-infested” or made reference to bear droppings being spotted in the area, Noguchi told the Shimbun that very few bears are spotted in the area Tanooka spent his ordeal.

While there is a dearth of hard scientific data about how long a healthy human can survive without food – as PBS writes “due to obvious ethical concerns – there are a number of anecdotal cases (Mahatma Gandhi, for instance, took only sips of water for 21 days) that suggest humans can survive without any food for 30-40 days, as long as they are properly hydrated. Tanooka told the soldiers who rescued him he hadn’t eaten in nearly a week.