Star-shaped sand? These Japanese beaches are the stuff of dreams

Okinawa in Japan is known for a lot of things. Serene beaches, World War II sites, and a life expectancy that puts the rest of the world to shame. 

But what’s that one well-kept secret that places it at the top of our bucket list? Its beaches, made of star-shaped sand

Star sand of iriomote island on a finger

Credit: Geomr/Wikimedia Commons

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These ‘grains’ are actually the pointy shells of microscopic beings called Foraminifera. When these creatures die in the sea, their exoskeletons (called ‘tests’) are pulled in by the tide, forming a star-sprinkled shoreline. 

Okinawa,Japan-May 31, 2019: Star sands or star-shaped sands from the bottom of the sea near Hatoma island

Foraminifera is a phylum with over 10,000 species, and the ones that form these specific shells—Baculogypsina sphaerulata—are known to be on the rarer side. 

Where is the star sand found?

A man bends down to examine the sands of Taketomi Island

A man bends down to examine the sands of Taketomi Island

Okinawa is a large prefecture (administrative division) made up of over 150 islands in the East China Sea. The star-shaped sands, however, can only be found on select beaches. The most famous spots are Kaiji Beach on Taketomi Island, Hoshizuna Beach on Iriomote Island, Aharen Beach on Tokashiki Island, and the entirety of Hatoma Island

Tourists love taking a stroll on these white ‘sands’ and watching their feet get encrusted by the starry remnants. Stargazing, scuba diving and trying Okinawan cuisine—which is vastly different from mainland Japan—are some of the other activities worth visiting for.

star shaped foraminifera shells on pink paper

But as with every rarity, there are some drawbacks. 

The star-shaped sands eventually grew popular enough that too many visitors—and souvenir sellers—began scooping them up in vials. It’s not allowed in some places anymore, and we advise any travellers to be considerate of future generations before grabbing a handful to take home. 

Feature image credit: Alain Couette/Wikimedia Commons

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