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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 Ikkyus
gray, grim-faced ghost. Sadly, the last sixty years have not
been kind to rural Japan. Now instead of birds, crabs, and turtles,
its 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 cant blame it for what it
did. Dont blame me for what Ive 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 Ebisus hair. Invisible
between your factories but more important. Tiny breakers in
the circuits that change the speeds on your easily disposed
of VCRs. 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 dont even know its
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 couldnt 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 gaikokujins (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 cant
afford, spun forever into the braids of Ebisus 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 couldnt
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 youll 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
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. Its up to
you. I have no longer have a choice. Ive been woven into
returning and gone. Gone and returning.