During the summer, Ishikari Beach in the Ishikari region west of Hokkaido is a popular destination for sunbathers. But at the end of October, when they are long gone, another group of people can be seen piled up on the sand, watching it intently as they walk.
This new cohort is made up of beachcombers, who seek out and collect items washed up on the shore – from pumice stones, created by volcanic eruptions 40,000 years ago, to a helmet adorned with Russian letters or an argonaut, a type of octopus housed in a shell that lives in the heat, offshore waters.
Why are these things here? What is their particularity? This reporter took a walk with beachcombers on Ishikari Beach, which is known as a popular spot for beachcombers.
Beachcombing, usually done for academic purposes, is also popular in Western countries.
Kenji Shiga, 55, a curator at the Ishikari Wind of Dune Museum who studies objects washed up by the sea, describes the finds as “the seaside encyclopedia.”
“These are letters sent from the ocean,” he said. “If you research the objects, you can have fun thinking about things like culture, history, and the global environment. It’s an intellectual game.
Downstream and on land
Ishikari Beach is a coastal sand dune formed by sand from the Ishikari River and monsoons from the Sea of Japan.
The beach stretches for 25 kilometers, from the Zenibako district of Otaru, Hokkaido, to the Atsuta district of Ishikari.
It has become known as a good place to stroll on the beach because the Tsushima Current carries objects from the south as it flows north into the Sea of Japan, and the westerly wind from the Eurasian mainland pushes them to Earth.
Beachgoers can also find objects that have been carried downstream by the river, as the 268 km long Ishikari River and its 14,330 square km basin, or about one sixth of the total area of Hokkaido, is throws in Ishikari Bay and releases his own items. , many of which drift on the beach facing the bay.
“While all the oceans are connected to each other, the objects drifting in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk differ,” says Takashi Kuwahara, 46, curator at the Okhotsk Sea Ice Museum in Hokkaido in the town of Monbetsu, in the north of the country. since 2012.
“At Ishikari Beach, you can find many artefacts that have drifted from the land and the river,” Kuwahara said.
The Ishikari Wind of Dune Museum has been holding beach events two or three times a year since 2004 on the beach, which is about a 40-minute drive from Sapporo.
A total of 25 people from the Hokkaido cities of Ishikari, Sapporo, Kitahiroshima and Takikawa, including 12 attending for the first time, attended an event on October 24, with the second scheduled to be held in 2021.
At 9 a.m., Shiga explained to the participants the dos and don’ts of the beach and things to note. Beachcombers must refrain from taking any items they find or throwing items in other places. They should not touch dangerous objects, such as plastic containers with liquid, gas bottles, syringes or dead animals.
Wearing rubber boots and work gloves, the participants set off from the Ishikari Lighthouse and walked along the beach to the mouth of the Ishikari River, about 1.5 km away.
Small items and seashells could be seen near the water’s edge, while larger, more worn-out items tend to be found higher up on the beach.
Due to the Tsushima Current, more objects drift south in the fall. If lucky, beach anglers may encounter rare creatures and organisms that live in warm seas, such as argonauts and blue-button jellyfish.
Pieces of coal were found on the beach. They appeared to come from the Sorachi region further north, going down the tributaries and the Ishikari River.
Ishikari Beach is also popular among beachcombers looking for amber, a transparent substance formed in ancient times from the resin produced by trees, which is sometimes contained in lumps of coal.
A piece of amber more than 6 centimeters in diameter has already been found on the beach.
Other objects often seen on the beach are Japanese walnuts measuring around 2 or 3 centimeters, which are said to have fallen from the trees by the river into the river.
In the fall, fresh walnuts can be found on the shore, as well as nut pods with bite marks apparently left by Japanese field mice. In rare cases, some nuts are buried in the sand and grow, but none of them continue to grow.
Unfortunately, on the day of the event, participants could not find any objects that appeared to have drifted from the south.
” This happens often. Today there were first fewer objects washed up on the shore, ”said Seiichiro Imai, 63, a Sapporo company employee with 15 years of experience in the field. “The beach is different every day, just like the shape of the waves is different. You can enjoy it if you look at it that way.
Encounter with rare creatures
Beachcombers walk the beach with different goals.
Masahiro Otsuka, a 13-year-old high school student from Sapporo who took part in the event with two family members, was removing driftwood and looking below, mostly looking for washed up creatures and bugs.
“I sometimes find creatures that you can’t see in Hokkaido,” Otsuka said.
Yoichi Suzuki, 40, a teacher at a primary school in Kitahiroshima who also attended the event, said he became obsessed with beaches five years ago while working as a teacher in Ishikari.
Suzuki, who is interested in stones and minerals, said: “I like to look for agates and amber. You can use them as materials for teaching biology, history, and environmental issues.
“But now I have problems because I have too much in stock at home,” he said with a smile.
Some participants found pumice stones, although the rocks were different from those created by an eruption of the submarine volcano Fukutokuokanoba in the Ogasawara island chain in August – which drifted off the coasts of Kagoshima prefectures and d ‘Okinawa, affecting fishing operations.
According to Shiga, most of the pumice stones found on Ishikari Beach were created by an eruption of the Shikotsu volcano in the area currently occupied by the town of Chitose in central Hokkaido some 40,000 years ago.
Many objects from abroad also reach the shore. Participants found a container of instant noodles and a tube of dressing with a Korean script mark, as well as a helmet with Russian letters printed on it.
Of the objects from other countries, 40% are believed to come from Russia and 40% from South Korea, with the remaining 20% coming from China and Taiwan combined. Objects from the Philippines or Vietnam are sometimes found, showing how the beach is connected to the world.
Participants walked for about two hours, collecting items, then returned to the museum and presented what they found: a container of soy sauce shaped like a fish, a baseball, a sea potato, a light bulb, etc.
One of the pleasures of strolling on the beach is discussing what and where they came from.
A participant looked at a piece of broken pottery and suggested that it might be part of a shōchū alcoholic beverage bottle used by Hokkaido herring fishermen during the late Edo period (1603-1868) or the Meiji period (1868-1912).
Takashi Omura, 45, an employee of Ishikari’s company who was present at the event with his son, a high school student, found a doll with large round eyes and spiky hair.
“I saved him because he was buried in the sand up to his neck,” Omura said. “I thought it was seaweed tangled around his body, but is it a piece of clothing?” “
Omura started searching the beach about four years ago after picking up rocks on a beach. “At first I was aiming for rocks, but gradually became interested (looking on the beach) after finding objects that I had never seen before drifting from the stranger,” Omura said.
This reporter collected 10 objects, including a shell, a nut and an onion. The most interesting find was an old, empty can of canned coffee – a type with a removable zipper – with a logo printed saying, “We support the 1998 Nagano Olympic Torch Relay,” indicating that it dated back to over two decades ago. Where had he drifted all these years? Thoughts were racing in my head and I found the beachcombing more interesting than expected.
Beachcombing doesn’t just involve the joy of finding treasures.
Shiga frowned when he spotted fishing gear – a float about three feet wide – washed up on the shore, with its orange cover torn off and numerous holes in the foam plastic inside.
He thinks the birds made holes in the float as it drifted over the sea, trying to eat algae and barnacles.
“If they also ate Styrofoam, I think it would affect their lives,” he said.
Citizen groups, as well as individuals and businesses, regularly volunteer to clean up massive amounts of plastic bottles and cans strewn on the beaches.
In Ishikari, some 280 volunteers participated in a beach clean-up event at the end of June before the beach opened to bathers and collected around 3.3 tonnes of trash.
This is only a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the global spread of marine pollution.
Although the Argonauts were not found during the October beach dig event, an increasing number of them have been found on Ishikari Beach since 2005.
More than 500 Argonauts were discovered on Hokkaido beaches in 2012, indicating an increase in sea temperature.
“Beachcombing teaches us about changes in the global environment, the issues of marine plastic litter, global warming and climate change,” said Shiga.
Cold winter is coming and the seas could get rough, but Ishikari Beach will see more and more objects washing up on the shore. Every day there will be a new discovery. It might be a little chilly, but why not try taking a walk and looking around your nearby beaches?
This section features Hokkaido topics and issues covered by the Hokkaido Shimbun, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original article was published on November 11.
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