CHIBA – If one looks carefully, beaches are a mine of tiny treasures washed ashore.
The shoreline along the city of Tateyama in Chiba Prefecture is one such spot for people who want to experience beachcombing.
There beachcombers can find beautiful shells, or pieces of coral and sea glass. Even bones of sea mammals from the prehistoric Jomon period (10,000 to 200 B.C.) can be found.
A nonprofit organization in Tateyama runs a beachcombing program every weekend on Okinoshima, an uninhabited island belonging to the city.
During a two-hour tour, participants walk the 1-km shoreline around the islet.
The ocean around the island is a popular spot for divers, but “you can also discover a lot of things on the shore without diving into the sea,” said Shoichi Takeuchi, 51, head of the group, Tateyama Umibe-no-kanteidan.
On one refreshingly breezy morning in early November, teacher Tsutomu Koizumi and 30 children from a science class at a private tutoring school in Yokohama joined the program.
“I decided to join as I thought it’d be a good opportunity for the kids to learn about living things,” said Koizumi.
At 10:30 a.m., the children began hunting for their own treasures. Among things found was a small shiny, round piece of porcelain shell.
There are some 80 kinds of porcelain shells around Japan and about 50 of them can be found along the shore of the island at the southern tip of the Boso Peninsula, Takeuchi explained. Beachcombers often bring them home to make accessories or use them for decorations.
Some of the children shouted out when they saw a sea turtle. But what they found was the carcass of a 1-meter loggerhead turtle. Dead turtles wash ashore a few times a year.
Enthusiasts say beachcombing not only brings people closer to nature but also provides opportunities to learn about local ancient history.
For example, the children found a piece of dolphin bone, possibly a remnant from the Jomon period when people are believed to have regularly hunted and ate dolphins.
Also on and around the islet, a lot of obsidian rocks, which were used as knives for hunting during this time, have been found. Many are likely to have come from the Izu Island chain off Shizuoka Prefecture.
“It could be that Jomon people traveled by boat from the Izu Island chain (to Okinoshima) during a season of dolphin hunting,” said Koji Okada of the Tateyama City Municipal Museum.
Beachcombing activities in Japan became popular about 10 years ago.
“You will never forget the feeling of coming in contact with nature directly. I hope the children will become grown-ups who can take responsibility for the environment,” Takeuchi said.