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There’s gold in them Okinawa's tourist beaches

By: David Knickerbocker

Date Posted: 2001-09-15

A new jewelry shop opened five weeks ago right outside Kadena Gate 1. Daniel's, owned by Phil Bellim, has a variety of unique jewelry to sift through while searching for that special gift for your loved one, or you could search through his collection of gold nuggets to add an interesting, valuable conversation piece to your home display cabinet.

Owner Phil Bellim says that he has always been interested in gold, ever since he was a child. Later on in life, he worked cutting opal in Australia, and over time has become interested in many of the world's other gemstones and minerals. In 1978, he moved to Okinawa mostly because of his interest in diving. Eventually, he started trading with a gemstone and mineral exporter and thus stemmed his interest in collecting, exporting, and selling gold and gems.

Phil says that he has had a lot of luck over the years using his Minelab metal detectors on many of the island's tourist beaches. What is it that makes his detectors special? Minelab detectors are made in Australia, where the ground is so mineralized that American-made detectors barely scratch the surface. There is a difference in the mineral content of land of the two continents, he says. "Some of the ground in Australia is so full of minerals it actually blew out one of my speakers," he says, referring to one of his earlier prospecting trips to Australia when he used an American detector. Since then, he has switched to Minelab and has been loyal to them ever since.

He began making prospecting trips to Australia about six years ago, with the first trip serving as a learning experience that led to the success he has had over time. "My first trip was more or less a trip to see what it was like. It was experimental. The second trip was a little more prepared, but I was still without a good detector," he says. "Before the third trip, I did more serious research and contacted various gold prospectors and made calls and faxes and made a lineup with two prospecting groups." Where his first two gold prospecting trips proved futile in terms of the amount of gold that was collected, his third trip to Australia was a success. "On the third trip I took with my son, I found about ten ounces," he says. In today's market, gold sells for about $270 per ounce, but collectors are willing to spend as much as $1,500 per ounce for gold in nugget form, depending on the size, shape, and quality of the nugget.

Many people don't take metal detecting or jewelry prospecting very seriously. Phil Bellim does, and he claims that it is something you have to take seriously, and if you don't have a positive attitude while you are out searching, you'll most likely not find anything. He claims that every time he has gone out with the right equipment, he has found something of value. When people see him out with his Minelab detector, scanning the white sands of many of the Okinawan tourist hot-spot beaches, they don't take it seriously, but he claims that over a six month period he found about $6,000 in yen, and over time he has built up quite a collection of gold, platinum, and silver jewelry he has found beneath the surface of the sandy beaches.

"Okinawa's beaches are great places to search because most Japanese tourists don't like to leave jewelry in their rooms," he explains. "I find everything, from bottle caps to coins to jewelry." He also explains that the tourist beaches are great spots to search because they are all man-made and you don't have to worry about stumbling onto an old war relic, for example a 1,000-pound bomb left from the Second World War. Also, with every new year comes a new wave of tourists to Okinawa, the cycle always continues and new jewelry is always waiting to be found. He says that the best time to go prospecting for coins and jewelry is after a typhoon because the wave action will actually wash coins up to the waterline due to their gravity.

However, before anyone runs to the nearest beach to get rich, one should consider the fact that the Japanese law requires the finder of any valuables, including cash, to report the find to the police who then takes it into custody. If no one claims the item within six months it becomes the finder’s property. According to a spokesman for the Okinawa Prefectural Police Department, failing to do so may result in criminal charges of lost article embezzlement to be filed against the finder in the court, and a hefty fine and even a possible jail term.

Though you can purchase metal detectors from the base exchange catalogs and on the internet, Phil claims that the detectors sold in catalogs and on the net are made for looking for coins in Stateside campgrounds and backyards and are not made for land with a high concentration of minerals. “When the sand on Okinawa gets wet, it becomes highly mineralized and most American-made detectors are not effective at detecting much of anything, or at least not to deeper depths with the accuracy of his Minelab detectors,” he testifies..

Aside from managing his store Daniel's and prospecting many of the local tourist beaches, Bellim also organizes yearly "Australian Gold Tours" where those hoping for their chance to strike it rich can make plans to meet in the heart of the Australian Gold Country on the western side of the continent. He started organizing the tours about six years ago. Those wishing to join in one of his tours only need to pay a set fee and Bellim and his crew will take care of the rest, including supplies, food, tents, and equipment. "The only thing people have to worry about is airfare," says Bellim. The next tour is scheduled for May 2002, and groups are almost always full, so reserve your spot as soon as possible. Aside from the gold, the Western Gold County is extremely beautiful at night. In May, Australia is at the beginning of its winter season, so it is comfortable during the day while they are prospecting and cool at night. Also, the starry skies are incredible, he says. "Someone once told me that with a good pair of binoculars you can see the flag on the moon, and it's estimated that 1,500 meteors go by per hour, so this is a great spot for watching the night skies," he says.

Though many people seldom take prospecting for coins and jewelry seriously, it has proved quite successful for Bellim. His new shop Daniel's has a good supply of his finds, and it is very interesting to see many of the platinum, gold, and silver pieces of jewelry he has found in the past as well as some of the gold nuggets he has found on his trips. Daniel's is open every day from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and is located right past Kadena Gate One if you are driving north on highway 58. After passing the gate, you will see a four-story building with a DoCoMo ad on the top. Turn left into the covered parking of this building right before the traffic light and give Phil a visit. For more information, on Daniel's or the Australian Gold Tours, call Phil Bellim at 090-9784-1620 or fax him at 098-926-1495.

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