By Tina Terry
Like some of you, I didn’t grow up living next to the ocean, but over the course of several years and many moves, I have been drawn to the beautiful shorelines of the world and the little treasures that wash ashore. Isn’t there just something really special about peacefully walking along a shoreline lost in your own thoughts looking for sea glass and shells?
A couple of years ago, I had a little jar hidden away in the closet full of mostly green, white, and brown sea glass, along with a few shells and shark teeth collected from those little beach trips. However, a move to Japan two years ago brought beachcombing opportunities that I could never imagine.
Serving in the military and moving around a lot, little did I know initially that where I was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, is one of the top spots in the world for finding sea glass. Almost every weekend, with the help of Google Maps and the cutest little orange Oki (short for Okinawa) car, I would find new beaches and drive around the Island to explore.
During my first summer in Okinawa, several powerful typhoons hit the island causing a lot of damage and flooding. After that first powerful storm came through, I found a new beach to check out on the southern part of the island. Though by no means a beachcombing expert, I did know that after a storm is a good time to look for recently washed-in or churned-up treasures. While walking along the shoreline of that new beach, I came across a small, teal-colored, cylindrical glass object. Not exactly sure what it was, it did seem special, so into my bag it went while I continued looking for sea glass and shells. Once back at home and after looking it up online, I learned that it was a Hokkaido Roller float!
I was definitely hooked from that moment on. Walking along tropical beaches on the weekend looking for sea glass, pottery, seashells, and the occasional glass fishing float was exactly what was needed to recharge my batteries for what was at times a stressful work week.
As my hobby (OK, maybe an obsession) grew, I went online to see if there were others who also loved to comb the beaches of Okinawa. On Instagram, I came across the page of @melissaw_91. Her photos and collection were gorgeous and inspired me to create a beachcombing page of my own for posting finds. Though beachcombing often is a solo activity, through this venue, I have been able to share my collection and I hope adventures with others, while being introduced to some amazing collectors not only in Okinawa, but all around the world.
Over the course of time, I visited many more Okinawan beaches, becoming much more knowledgeable about things like tide charts, types of beaches to look for, and time of day to go. During the holidays with time off from work, I set my eye on traveling to other parts of Japan and nearby countries planning weekend beachcombing getaways. I would purchase inexpensive tickets on budget airlines like Peach and Vanilla Air and discovered for myself the vastly different and beautiful areas of Tokyo Bay, Hokkaido, Aomori Prefecture, and northern Taiwan.
Hokkaido in particular is a dream come true for float lovers. Not sure exactly where to look but knowing from research that they could be found there, I rented a car and spent a week traveling around the large northernmost Japanese prefecture, often driving past picturesque small fishing villages dotted along the coast.
The first beach I visited was next to an industrial area, and it was raining hard. Initially, all I saw was a lot of plastic floats washed ashore, but as I continued along I came across a large 14-inch-diameter glass float covered in netting! I was so overjoyed that indeed there were floats to be found. Though on that occasion, it was a very long walk back to the car, which gave me time to figure out a plan on how to get it home, as carrying a large glass ball on a budget airplane or trying to fit it in luggage just wasn’t going to work (As a tip, the mail service in Japan is excellent and all glass floats I shipped made it back to Okinawa intact).
Over the course of the week, I found many smaller glass floats and sea glass along gorgeous coastline, met some wonderful Airbnb Japanese hosts, and even visited the famous flower fields of Shikisai-no-oka farm. I also made sure to visit the small town of Otaru, a popular tourist spot, which is famous for its glass-blowing shops to include the Otaru/Asahara glass company which made glass fishing floats for a time.
On a few different weekend trips, I traveled to Tokyo, perhaps a somewhat unexpected beachcombing destination. Though getting around by car was time-consuming and expensive (a lot of tolls and a ferry crossing ticket) the scenery and finds around the Tokyo Bay were well worth the expense.
I was delighted to find beautiful pink scallop shells along with well-worn pottery, tiles, and even my first die. And of course, Tokyo itself has so much to do and see. I couldn’t pass up a chance to drive a “Mario” go-cart through the famous Shibuya Crossing in a Yoshi costume.
From Okinawa, traveling to Taiwan was only a short hour-and-a-half plane ride, so I made sure to visit. Though it rained a lot on the two occasions there, it was not disappointing. Outside of Taipei to the north are several coastal villages and rugged terrain. Renting a car (ensuring I had a valid International Drivers Permit), I made my way along the coast finding marbles, colorful and well-worn sea glass, and even a large glass float. Besides beachcombing, I found that Taiwan has great night markets and delicious restaurants with freshly caught seafood.
On my last trip to northern Japan I visited Aomori Prefecture. Knowing that primarily large glass fishing floats could be found there, I went in the fall and also got to enjoy the colorful foliage just inland from the shoreline.
Over a long weekend, walking along miles of coastline, I found six large floats in total along with a few smaller ones. Not able to send all of them back to Okinawa and initially unsure what to do with the remaining ones, I met a nice family out looking for floats as well who were glad to take the rest off my hands.
Rain or shine, over the last two years, I have loved spending time on beaches in Japan and throughout the Pacific, sometimes convincing or dragging along a sibling or coworker, exposing them to the wonderful hobby of beachcombing. Though the time went much too quickly, and I have since moved back to the United States, I look forward to hopefully going back to Japan soon and continue having weekend beachcombing getaways.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2020 issue.
Get a look at more of the shells in Tina's collection:
More of Tina's Japanese glass fishing floats: