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Star Sand


Photo: TARUMI Kengo

“Have you ever seen a star sand walk?”

Suddenly, he questioned me. That star-shaped sand—bottled and sold in any souvenir shop—that walks. I knew that in fact, they are not a foraminifer fossil from tens of thousands of years ago like it was once said, but the shell of a modern foraminifer, baculogypsina. Yet, star sand which rendered the sand of a beach and the idea of “walking” was not so relatable. 

“No,” I answered, and the conversation went on leaving me in bewilderment. “Star sands are kind of like a bonus for us,” a punch one after another. It was at a guest house on Hatoma Island I hadn’t visited in a long time. Their son, who came back to the island lately, went on: “Usually we dive in the sea to spear fish. Star sand hunting in early spring is the bonus. 8500 yen per to1; it used to be 10,000 yen until recently. It still makes about a million every season, though.”

They gather living star sand from the sea at the beach in the back, then wash it in water, bleach it, dry it, and ship it. “I think we still got a bit,” he said and put down his cup of awamori to look for. What he showed me was similar to those I got to see in the shops sometimes, unnatural in some way. The spines of the star were strikingly sharp, with a subtly grayish heart somewhat reminding me of a sick’s skin. 

Those washed ashore in a natural death have a healthy skin color, well exposed under the sun and tide. The spines are also rather rounded.

Taketomi Island or Iriomote Island beaches are known for their star sand. Nonetheless, from what I have seen, they surely exist in every skin-colored white sand beach southern than Yakushima. Marginopora—round and thin, resembling coins—or calcarina—a size larger than star sand, sun-shaped with stick-like spines (it really looks like a badly made satellite to me)—are also often mingled together.

So, how was the actual walk of star sand? I went to the beach in the back with a water glass and a snorkel, and let myself float in the knee-deep water. Terribly shortsighted I am, it only appeared to be a blurry skin-colored sand soil at first. After a while, I realized that it was in fact a pile of star sand already dead and naturally weathered. I lightly dived in to gaze at a seaweed. Scattering tiny star sand was clinging to it. Nothing seemed different from their carcass, yet somewhat blackish. The seaweed wavered to the slightest wave. I was still gazing. The star sand walked, slowly. Just like a faltering-stepped snail, it moved. The walk of stars. They say they walk with a pseudopodium stuck out from a small hole on the surface of their shell.   

I put it in my mouth. Crushed, something like a piece of meat jammed between teeth remained on my tongue. So it is a living creature. I rose to the surface and stayed afloat to watch the star sand walk. That walk gave me an unaccountable serenity, for which I could watch it forever, without getting tired of it.

Editor’s Note:

  1. A Japanese measurement unit. 1 “to” is about 18.04 liter.