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You Don't Even Know It's Magic
by Miguel Strother

When I first arrived in Japan I feared the lack of mind-altering drugs. But as time wore on the injection of new experience was enough to satisfy my synapses. However, when a plump handful of psilocybe was offered to me by a friend just before I set out on a day trip recently, I simply couldn’t resist.

A large hornet sunk into my right arm just before I set to pedaling. I could see the tear-drop base of its large abdomen as it wobbled away in the wind before quickly steadying me in its jaws. The insect didn’t sting, rather it bit me, taking a chunk of flesh from my arm back to line the combs of its nest.

I got on my bike that afternoon and pedaled to a path that cuts through the rural seaside of our prefecture. The seaside in Japan holds both joy and disappointment. Steep, rugged cliffs line the mint green ocean and on some days the wind and humidity combine to trap a thin, pale haze of salt spray against the jagged cliffs giving the whole scene the air of an ancient Ikkyu poem. If you look close enough, you can even rei (bow) to Ikkyu’s gray, grim-faced ghost. Sadly, the last sixty years have not been kind to rural Japan. Now instead of birds, crabs, and turtles, it’s car batteries, disposed appliances, and mounds of burnt plastic that greet those who meander through.

Mostly I remember the hornets dull-yellow color. Like bile in a healthy liver or wallpaper in an aging townhome . Otherwise I was hardly phased by it. Natural. Like my own attempt to kill it. A natural reaction. It took something from me and I wanted to take something from it. I can’t blame it for what it did. Don’t blame me for what I’ve done. I came from the suburbs. Yellow reminds me of the sulfur.

On this day a strange new sight greeted me and my used Canon. Draped over all available beach front were small shelters and massive sheets of multi-colored plastic that combined to create a type of post-modern tartan across the landscape. Confused, I looked a little closer and further noticed that large bins, reminiscent of those that hold ping pong balls for shopping mall give-a-ways, were being spun by individuals dressed in stained black clothes, knee-high black rubber boots, elbow-high black rubber gloves, wide brimmed hats and bandanas wrapped around their faces. All along the beach in half-kilometer intervals were like-clad individuals and enough strands of black wakame (seaweed) to circle the globe.

That day, not really worried about the pain, I turned and pedaled the mountains until I wore them down to the their yellow bones. Up and over and over again.

I snapped a few photos of the wakame yeoman and then proceeded on the rest of my journey. As far as I traveled, probably ten kilometers, every inch of available beach was cloaked with the same shanty-esque farms. The wind picked up and I was able to coast the paved path with little effort. It became so easy that I spent most of my time ignoring the invasions of industry and mounds of burnt garbage and simply gazed at the farmers or out at the sea beyond them. None of them talked, and other than them, there was nobody around. Just me, the birds, Ikkyu, and the heavy breath of the farmers

This day the wind caught me and spun me across the circuit-board countryside toward farmers weaving Ebisu’s hair. Invisible between your factories but more important. Tiny breakers in the circuits that change the speeds on your easily disposed of VCR’s. Simple enough. But not.

After about two hours of effortless cycling, the road dipped off into the ocean and I was left with no recourse other than to turn around and do what I had just done in reverse. A fat, black, wide-billed raven blinked, snapping several photos of me from the top of a metal sign providing directions in Japanese. It cocked its head and then, with one beat of its powerful black wings, headed in the direction I myself was set to take.

They stop only for moments. Changing in ways that you will never notice. Never ending. Fast forward. Stop. Rewind. Stop. Play. Stop. Impossible to catch. You don’t even know it’s magic.

About ten minutes along the reverse path I stopped, my eyes drawn to a flock of farmers who had removed the bandanas from their faces and turned some old crates upside down, set to sit and enjoy what would be their only break between dawn and dusk. My Canon couldn’t resist this moment and I stopped my bike and prepared to take some more photos. I was more than a little paranoid, thinking that these weathered farmers would not take kindly to a gaikokujin’s (outsiders) interest in them and proceeded with due caution.

Sacrificing, they have stripped the guts of the great Leviathan, winning the gifts and secrets of the sea.

Although the first reaction of one of the older farmers was to hide his face as I snapped my first picture, the lot of them, to my relief, broke into a raucous squawks of laughter at this reaction. After that I was easily able to get ten or so photos without interruption. I had all that I wanted and was preparing to head back from where I came when I garbled message in Japanese reached my ears. My eyes lifted to the group and I noticed one man looking in my direction and waving a canned drink. The invitation was slow to set in and I smiled and steadied my bicycle, preparing to leave. Then it clicked. These people were offering me what little they had to join them.

Their teeth and skin are turned inner-tube black from their alchemy. It is the cost. They happily pay a price you can’t afford, spun forever into the braids of Ebisu’s hair, while you get caught in the black guts of burnt video tapes. Over and over again. Easier, you are meant to break. Their smiles, inherited from Daikoku, are wide, knowing and strong despite their burnt-matchstick teeth.

Now I should tell you that I was at the height of my flamboyant artistic self that day and my clothing showed it. I had on a large collared, plaid, Levis cowboy shirt, thick-soled Fleuvaug boots, baggy brown corduroys, a hand-woven, broad-brimmed straw hat with a brown band to match my pants, black sunglasses, and a bright red scarf. Not exactly the mirror image of my hard working, would be hosts. But they seemed not to care and I couldn’t say no to what was likely a once-in-a-lifetime chance.

They know how you work. But you, you have no idea how their smiles got so wide.

As we sat there and spoke in broken English, Japanese, and simple silences, they offered me parts of their lunch and I came to the slightest understanding of how hard they worked. They received the wakame off of large trucks that brought it from the docks. They then set to the arduous task of spinning the bulk of the sea water out of it by hand before laying the thousands of tons out in straight lines to dry in the sun. When that is finished (about a week after) depending on the weather, the dry wakame, now no more heavy than large sheets of black construction paper, is taken to market where it sells for less than fifty cents a pound. They repeat this process over and over for several months every spring.

You have bone-white teeth. Your mouth moves like chopsticks, clicking back and forth, trying eat away at their good fortune. But their good fortune keeps you alive, as if you’ll ever know. If you listen close enough to the creaking in your guts though, you might understand.

All, save one of the farmers, are members of the Mura family and have been at this work for generations. Only now the scenery has changed and the once pristine ocean side is covered with garbage, lined with barbed wire and more lucrative businesses such as paint factories and cell phone manufacturers. ‘Was it hard work?’ I asked one of the younger Muras. ‘Only when it rains,’ he replied without interruption in his smile.

Me, I just keep pedaling with the wind and hope you keep reading. I have become the wind spinning you. Turning you round and round. Spin and change or spin and die. It’s up to you. I have no longer have a choice. I’ve been woven into Ebisu’s hair.


Miguel Strother returning and gone. Gone and returning.


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