Bottles, cans and lumber from the tsunami that devastated Japan in March began washing up on British Columbia shores this week, more than a year earlier than oceanographers had initially predicted.

Winds and currents have carried the items -- emblazoned with Japanese characters -- nearly 21,000 kilometres across the Pacific Ocean. They began washing up in the Tofino area on Vancouver Island's west coast earlier this week.

Jean-Paul Froment, a longtime area resident, says he's used to seeing things wash up on the beach, but has never seen such a large quantity of debris? at once.

Tofino mayor Perry Schmunk said municipal workers will take special care in cleaning up the retrieved items.

"We will treat the whole thing with respect because everything that has come ashore has dealt with a significant human tragedy," said Schmunk.

The tsunami, which came after one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, claimed more than 15,000 lives and damaged more than 100,000 buildings.

The flotsam now arriving in B.C. heralds a much larger cluster of debris on its way. Russian sailors have reported spotting a giant floating cluster of material, estimated to be twice the size of Texas, about 2,700 kilometres east of Hawaii. The items include a fishing boat marked "Fukushima."

Initially, scientists thought it would take until early 2013 for the debris to arrive in Hawaii, but it is moving much faster than expected.

In November, American oceanographer updated that predication, saying his computer models showed that drifting boats and houses could be arriving in B.C. at any time.

"When you look at what floats in the water . . . you will see find many objects travel three times faster than surface water," he told last month, saying large objects can travel across the north Pacific at a speed of about 35 kilometres a day. "Those objects stick up so high out of the water they actually catch the wind and sail very fast."

A smaller object -- propelled only by the ocean current -- travels at closer to 11 kilometres a day.

He warned cleanup crews and local officials should keep public safety in mind when handling and disposing of large objects, saying it's possible they could still contain radioactive water.