A sun-blackened hand reached out and presented a busted up old bowl filled to the brim with small green fruits. As I looked up, I found myself face-to-face with a buck-naked man whose wrinkled face was constricted into a tight pucker indicating the sour taste of the shikuasa fruit in the bowl. With cheeks full of this tropical lemon, he spouted out, “The bugs come out at 6, so you’d be best to be in your tent then,” and vanished back into his cramped quarters.
This was neither the backwoods of the Amazon nor a scene from the Stone Age. Rather, he’s just a modern-day guy Japanese living naked in Japan.
Miho, my travel companion, and I were sea-kayaking in Okinawa and had just pulled ashore on one of the small, outlying islands. It was then the aforementioned “bloke in the buff” approached us. Were we in the city, he would have been carried off in a heartbeat. Within the beauty of nature, it felt more embarrassing to be blushing at the sight of him.
Just up from the beach, in the first glade of trees, stood his “forest palace,” about the size of three four-person tents. There was a place to catch rain-water, another for storing food, a kitchen area and sleeping quarters – not much space to spare, but quite cozy.
The “road” from his home to the beach was the only tramped down portion of the wood, so he kindly picked out a comfortable section of ground for us, and we pitched our tent.
As the sun dipped into the horizon, Miho and I toasted the slow, yet steadily, changing palette of colors in the sunset with a beer. The man then kindly brought our sea-kayak up to our campsite.
There was none of the usual note-passing or sign language between us. Although some gestures were made, most of our communication felt closer to some sort of instinctual telepathy. There was something spiritual about him, as if he was in touch with the sea, sky and living things around him.
At last the clock struck 6 and from out of nowhere a black cloud of mosquito-like insects as big as your thumb swooped in from across the sea. This swarm of bugs was intimidating enough to buckle your knees, and we were stumped as to what would happen next. Then after some time, the legion was gone as quickly as it had come.
Miho and I were awestruck at how he could predict such a precise time without the benefit of a watch.
We again raised our slightly warm beers to the beauty of the moon as it glowed across the mirror-like surface of the water. We were delighted to realize this was spring tide and a full moon. The tide slowly made its way up the beach before we finally noticed it right at the edge of our tent.
We hurriedly gathered our things and piled them inside; however, just as we were about to be overrun, the waters began to recede. We would have been flooded if the old man had not picked the spot for us.
The next day our well-exposed friend sent us off in fine fashion. Sadly, though, we struck a reef on our way out to sea, tearing a hole in the boat. Forced to check the tide forecast on our cell phones, we couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to have “natural sensors” like the old man rather than relying on the digital world.