Japan is crazy about collecting things, but we haven’t collected much here in Japan beyond a handful gacha toys and fountain pen ink so it’s time to fix that. For our last stop in Japan, we head to a beach in Itoigawa, Niigata Prefecture in search of jade (ヒスイ). While the beach in this whole region is known for jade, Itoigawa is the closest stop to us via the Shinkansen, so using our JR pass we set out one last time.
Itoigawa itself is quiet when we arrive, the streets devoid of people and cars during a work day. We pick up a map and some advice from the mini-museum/visitor’s center behind the train station, then walk toward the beach. There’s a highway between us and the shoreline, so we have to go about half a mile north before we find an underpass with beach access. Nearby, we find a 7-11 and grab lunch.
The beach is a pebbly stretch dotted here and there with piles of concrete tetrapods to prevent erosion. It doesn’t look like much until you’re standing on the pebbles and look down to find the stones glisten with a rainbow of colors. There are green, purple, red, white, brown, and black stones of all shapes and sizes. To find jade, we know we should be looking for stones that feel heavy for their weight and are smooth and cool to the touch, but the color can range from white to green to purple to black. Time to start collecting.
Though it’s a work day, we’re not the only ones on the beach. Other folks on holiday are here too, combing the beach for jade and other treasures and dodging the surf that occasionally rushes past the bowl-shape of the water’s edge.
At the end of two hours, we’ve collected more than a kilo of stones and it’s time to decide what we want to keep. We try to be picky, because everything we take we either have to carry in our packs or have to send through the mail. We pick out the pieces most likely to be jade, then add in pieces we like for their color or shape. Our favorites are a tan colored stone etched with red and brown impurities, forming the patterns of hills or lakes or planets. We’ve found only five of them in our hours of collecting, so we keep them all.
After we finish up, we walk the beach and watch the other collectors with their bags slung over their shoulders, crouched down with hands sifting through the pebbles. The sound is unique, more treble than the ocean’s movement of stones, and reminds me of the sound candy-coated almonds make when you shake a box. The clinking of dozens of stones continues, as does the craze of collecting things.