This piece was contributed by Evie Farrell of MUMpack Travel.
Searching for sea glass in Okinawa was eight-year-old Emmie’s idea. She is fascinated with the frosty chunks of glass flung ashore by the ocean, their smooth edges and beautiful tumbling past. We scour the beaches at home in Sydney but only find whites, browns and the occasional green – and Emmie is obsessed with the beautiful colours the ocean gives up in other parts of the world.
While researching, Emmie discovered that smooth chunks of ice blues, greens and pinks, as well as rare bonfire glass – pieces fused together and embedded with ash or sand – could be found scattered over a little beach on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa.
“Mum look at this – it’s bonfire glass!” she was so excited as she showed me the pictures. “I want to find some. Can we go?”
There was no reason why we couldn’t. We’d been travelling for more than two years and plenty of our adventures had been led by Emmie. Camping on the Great Wall of China and traversing the glass walkway in Zhangjiajie were all her idea. We’d never been to Japan in all our travels, so why not? All I needed from her was some extra research on how to find sea glass in Okinawa. She would lead this trip.
Sea glass is pretty special. It’s formed after years of being tossed and pummelled in the ocean, with the discarded shards becoming smooth and frosty from rolling in the sand. Bonfire glass occurs from a heat event – burning rubbish on the beach, a bonfire or a building fire – which causes pieces of glass to mesh together and become embedded with ash and sad. The glass looks bubbly, and can be a beautiful, swirling mixture of different colours and textures with dark sections and flecks held within.
Sea Glass Beach in Okinawa was known for its bonfire glass and we booked our flights and set off to find it.
Okinawa Prefecture is in southern Japan, about two and a half hours by air from Tokyo. The prefecture consists of 160 tropical islands – some uninhabited – and reaches south so close to Taiwan that it’s only a 30 minute flight from Ishigaki Island.
Its capital, Naha, is on Okinawa Island, the largest in the prefecture, and the capital of the ancient Ryukyu Kingdom. It was occupied by the US military following World War II and whilst returned to the Japanese government in 1972, the US military still has a presence with more than 26,000 troops stationed on the island.
After five days exploring Naha we hired a car and took off in search of Sea Glass Beach. It’s actually not too hard to find given that Google Maps knows how to direct you straight to it! Just search for Sea Glass Beach and follow the super easy directions north.
The excitement was growing but I was worried about expectations. What if we didn’t find any glass after coming all this way? What if all I was left with was a disappointed girl?
“Emmie, there may not be any glass on the beach today, so don’t be too disappointed. We may have to try really hard to find a piece.” I tried to keep her hopes up but be realistic that it may be a bust.
“Mum there is going to be lots of glass, I just know it!” she replied…uh oh, I was worried!
It was late in the afternoon when we turned off onto a dirt road towards Sea Glass Beach. Driving past little patches of farmland and tall golden grass, we popped out at a dirt patch with a trail leading down to the beach. We parked and I wandered down, with Emmie racing ahead and leading the way to the sand.
The gorgeous beach was deserted, blue water sparkling and a curved line of rocks and shells showing the high tide mark. Within seconds Emmie had pounced on an ice blue piece of glass, its milky colour and soft curves evidence of its time being pounded and swirled by the ocean.
“Mum I’ve found some,” she yelled, running over to me with her prize in her hard. Thank goodness!! The pressure was off now that she had found her first piece…now to see what else we could find.
Eyes down we traced the shoreline and the high tide mark, finding a few pieces of blue and green glass. It wasn’t a lot but it was enough to satisfy Emmie, although the real prize, the bonfire glass, eluded us.
As the sun set and the light began to fade we returned to the car and drove to our guesthouse, already excited to return for the morning for a new tide and washed up secrets of the ocean.
After some sushi and tempura in Nago – about 30 minutes west of Sea Glass Beach – and a good night’s sleep, we were ready to beachcomb again and see if the tide had delivered any more glass treasures.
As we approached the beach we could see it sparkling. Overnight a carpet of glass and shells had covered the sand, and the spaces between the rocks were stuffed with shells and round flat rocks and shards and chunks of glass…blues, greens, whites and browns, and the first discovery by Emmie of her bonfire glass.
The piece was beautiful, white glass fused with a swirling blue and speckled with ash. Dream realised!
Soon enough a family of five wandered down the pathway, bringing little baskets and searching for blue glass. A US Marine’s wife arrived with her daughter, hunting for flat stones for kids to paint in art class. Emmie ran off with the kids and I continued to comb the beach, finding tiny gems and beautiful mashups of green, blue and white.
After a few cooling swims in the stunning blue water it was time to go. We selected our special pieces and off we went, our mission accomplished in the most exciting way. We had set out with a goal and we had found what we were after. Our beautiful glass, our bonfire glass and a fabulous trip led by Emmie
Thank you Sea Glass Beach!
Other info (links):
Read about our favourite things to do with kids in Tokyo: https://mumpacktravel.com/the-best-fun-things-to-do-with-kids-in-tokyo/