Jade Hunting Expedition – Part 2

Itoigawa City– Niigata Prefecture – Japan

Golden Week; May 3rd-7th gave me five days to go south and hunt for Japanese jadeite. Part 1 of these notes covered my trip to the Oyashirazu Pier, the Jade Museum there and my interaction with the local jade hunters. In Part 2 I shall relate my adventures in the Kotakigawa Gorge and exploring the ancient Jomon village of Chojagahara.

Note for Gem Geeks–a very detailed article on Japanese Jadeite can be found in this issue of the official GIA magazine: GEMS & GEMOLOGY, SPRING 2017, VOL. 53, NO. 1

In about 2,500 BCE the Jomon village of Chojagahara, situated on a hill overlooking Itoigawa, was the center of a trade network providing jade for beads and stone axes to Jomon settlements throughout Japan. But by 700 AD jade ornaments had fallen out of fashion and the source for the jadeite was lost. That source, in the Kotakigawa Gorge, wasn’t rediscovered until 1939.


In the morning I drove far up into the mountains on narrower and narrower roads, then down into the canyon of the Kotakigawa Jade Gorge. It was a long, twisting drive down a narrow, one-lane road with snow still nestled under the trees, and regular turn-outs for cars to pass each other.

I arrived at the small parking spot at the bottom of the road and pulled in.  I wasn’t alone, though, but the Japanese couple were just leaving. I marveled at the huge boulders of rough jadeite sitting in the middle of the river, as well as one set up for viewing next to the rest area.

After examining the signs and most easily accessible area, noting the bilingual sign in Japanese and English mentioning that it was illegal to take jade or any other rock or plants from the area, I checked the maps to accertain the extent of the protected area, then proceeded to hike up the river bank until I was out of the illegal zone. Only then did I start my Jade hunt. It didn’t take long to find a 650 gram rock in the river bed, but that was the only one I was able to positively identify. Thousands of river rocks littered the stream, but the jade was quite rare.

I then took a hour’s hike up the side of the canyon past Mt. Myogo, a rock climbing destination, and past warnings of landslide and spectacular views up and down the gorge. Several times I was tempted to try to find a way down to the river again, but the trail was high above it and there was no easy path to be seen. I made my way back to my car just after noon and checked my maps to find the best way to reach the Jomon ruins of Chojagahara and the nearby museum.

The afternoon drive to the Chojagahara Jomon archaeological site and museum was easier than I had suspected, as it wasn’t far beyond the park with the Fosse Magma Geological Museum I had visited the day before.

The day was warm and not a cloud in the sky. I went through the small museum before walking maybe half a kilometer through the forest to the open field where the village had stood. Several of the original sites were covered with structures built in the same style and with the same materials as had been used by the original dwellers 4,500 years earlier.

It was late afternoon before I had finished my culture tour and I returned to the campground just before sunset, quite pleased with the day’s adventures. I had accomplished everything I had set out to do and more. The weather forecast for the next day was for rain, so I decided to drive back to Akita a day early. A good decision, as the rain started about 5:00am the next morning. I packed and headed back to the coast for the long drive home. Eight and a half hours of driving through pouring rain!

These are the jade pieces I took home with me, including the rock I found myself–before and after polishing a window on the front.

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