TOKYO - Japan's first anonymous drop box for unwanted babies triggered a wave of anger and soul searching yesterday after it was discovered that a preschooler - and not an infant - was left by his father on the service's first day.

Newspapers condemned the father and warned that the operation was open to abuse and could traumatize youngsters.

The drop-off for infants, known as "Stork's Cradle," was begun May 10 by the Roman Catholic-run Jikei Hospital in the southern city of Kumamoto to discourage abortions and the abandonment of children in unsafe public places. The same day, a boy now believed to be 3 was found inside.

The boy, who was in good health, reportedly said he was left by his father, who was seen holding the youngster's hand as they approached the hospital. They apparently rode Japan's bullet train to Kumamoto, but it was unclear where they lived.

"I came with Daddy," the boy was quoted as saying by the Mainichi newspaper. Local media reported the boy was able to identify himself by name, but it was unclear whether the father had been identified.

The revelation of the boy's age Tuesday triggered outrage among political leaders, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying that "anonymously throwing out a child is unacceptable." He urged parents to consult social workers for help if raising children gets too tough.

The hospital has refused to comment on the case, citing privacy concerns, but said there were age limits on its drop-off service.

Police have decided no crime was committed because the child was left in a situation in which it was not exposed to immediate harm, Kyodo News reported yesterday.

A small hatch in the side of the hospital allows anyone to anonymously put a baby into an incubator 24 hours a day. It was created after a series of high-profile cases in which newborns were abandoned in parks and supermarkets.

"We must rethink the meaning of the baby drop-off," the conservative Sankei newspaper said in an editorial. It called the boy's abandonment "unforgivable," saying that "unlike a baby, a toddler may suffer from trauma."

The Yomiuri newspaper said it was too early to judge the baby drop, but said it must be used for its original purpose of receiving newborns, not young children. *