Thinking about grains of sand as stars in the sky is a common way of trying to visualize the enormity of the universe. But at a few beaches in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture, the sand grains really are stars.
The islands of Okinawa, Japan are home to several foram sand beaches. A folktale from Taketomi-Jima describes the star-shaped shells as the children of the Polar Star and the Southern Cross, devoured and spat out again by a giant serpent which served the Seven Dragon God of the Sea.
Take a stroll along Hoshizuna no Hama (Star Sand Beach), located on Iriomote Island, and your feet will become encrusted with tiny star-shaped “tests,” or shells, produced by microscopic, unicellular protists known as Foraminifera. When Foraminifera die, their shells remain in the sea and the tide brings them ashore. In the case of Hatoma, Iriomote and Taketomi islands in Okinawa, this results in beaches sprinkled with star sand.