Mr. Ohkawa was disguised as a Bedouin nerd. He had a white towel over his head which framed his glasses under his cap. “What’s the matter?” asked Mr. Sasaki. “Bugs,” came a simple reply with a tone of stating the obvious. Indeed, in the last light of the day, dozens of small brown flies were visiting each of us. Not actually biting, the main irritation was their relentless desire to walk on the skin of our arms and faces. I was reminded of scenes from African safaris where lions recline in the shade and flies swarm about incessantly. But the bugs would not stay long. Mysteriously, they vanished with the sun, leaving us pest-free after dark.
Kikuchi-san was preparing a local meal for me: Satsuma miso soup. Satsuma is the old name for the area around Kagoshima, and the miso soup he was preparing included chicken, mushrooms, carrots, and sweet potatoes. He said this miso soup was sweet compared to miso I may have had in other parts of Japan. Yes, usually miso soup is a bit salty.
The meal was all part of the program. I, the foreigner traveling in Japan, would try some local home cooking. Kikuchi-san, when I asked him, said he usually doesn’t include camping meal preparation as part of his guide services but he was doing it because he was requested to do so for the TV program. Not that he was begrudging about it. He cooked as earnestly and naturally as he provided information and looked after his clients. The food was really good too. I have often seen on Japanese TV how some celebrity will try some local dish, accepting a mouthful, pausing, and then exclaiming how delicious it is. It looks so formulated and fake that I remain partially disbelieving usually. But Kikuchi-san’s Satsuma miso really hit the spot. Perhaps it was because of the hunger built up after a long day of hiking. No matter. I thoroughly enjoyed his single-burner camp stove cooking.
Our water supply was back up to desirable levels; however, the amount of water available at this hut/tent site was despairingly sparse. Six pipes protruded from a dry ravine wall – four of them dry, one of them dripping only, and one trickling reasonably. Everyone staying there that night had to get water from that one pipe. It was here that I opened my 2-litre bottle and along with the ravine pipe trickle, I filled up my 250ml bottles for easier drinking the next day. While I was doing so, a deer came out of the trees and stood watching us with mild interest for several moments before ambling on into the forest again.
Come bed time, it seemed the plan had changed again. We were not going to sleep in tents. Outside the mountain hut was a wood deck where many people had been sitting and chatting while eating. Only a couple of tents had been set up and the rest of the visitors had gone off to the hut. We were just going to sleep out in the open. I was asked by Mr. Hatanaka to try to shoot a series of night sky photos which he would later show in sequence to create a kind of time lapse view of the Milky Way crossing the sky. I stayed up a half hour trying to get a decent set of images for him.
I slept well under my canopy of the cosmos and there were no mosquitoes. We awoke at 3:30 again, the TV crew leaving ahead of us to reach the Jomon sugi and prepare for my arrival. Kikuchi-san and I stayed back a bit, and then moved off through the dark forest with our headlamps lighting the way. We stopped for an easy breakfast of noodles (prepared by him), and as the sky through the trees began to glow orange and the luminous crescent moon kept position in a darker corner of the sky, we gradually approached the Jomon sugi.
Just around the bend from the famous tree, we were asked to wait. Sunrise came to the forest and the thick tree branches and trunks caught the deep orange light of daybreak. Day three on Yakushima had begun. Kikuchi-san’s radio crackled and permission to proceed was granted. Now it was my turn to be lead to the viewing deck before one of the oldest living things on the planet: the great Cryptomeria japonica known as the Jomon sugi.