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Japanese transcription(s)
 - Japanese 北海道
 - Rōmaji Hokkaidō

Symbol of Hokkaido
Country Japan
Region Hokkaido
Island Hokkaidō
Capital Sapporo
 - Governor Harumi Takahashi
 - Total 83,453.57 km2 (32,221.6 sq mi)
Area rank 1st
Population (2010-10-01)[1]
 - Total 5,507,456
 - Rank 8th
 - Density 66.4/km2 (172/sq mi)
ISO 3166 code JP-01
Districts 68
Municipalities 180
Flower Hamanasu
(Rugosa Rose, Rosa rugosa)
Tree Ezomatsu
(Jezo Spruce, Picea jezoensis)
Bird Tanchō
(Red-crowned Crane, Grus japonensis)
Fish Sea Bream
Website Hokkaido Official Website
Hokkaidō (island)
Native name: 北海道(本島)
Location Boundary between northwestern Pacific Ocean, Sea of Japan, and Sea of Okhotsk
Coordinates 43°N 142°E / 43°N 142°E / 43; 142
Archipelago Japanese Archipelago
Area 77,981.87 km2 (30,108.968 sq mi)
Highest elevation 2,290 m (7,510 ft)
Highest point Asahidake
Prefectures Hokkaido
Largest city Sapporo (pop. 1,890,561)
Population approx. 5,600,000
Ethnic groups Ainu, Yamato

About this sound Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō?, literally "North Sea Circuit"), formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso, is Japan's second largest island; it is also the largest and northernmost of Japan's 47 prefectural-level subdivisions. The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu,[2] although the two islands are connected by the underwater railway Seikan Tunnel. The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital, Sapporo, which is also its only ordinance-designated city.



Map of Hokkaido

Hokkaido was settled by Ainu, Gilyak, and Orok 20,000 years ago.[3] The Nihon Shoki, finished in 720, is often said to be the first mention of Hokkaido in recorded history. According to the text, Abe no Hirafu[3] led a large navy and army to northern areas from 658 to 660 and came into contact with the Mishihase and Emishi. One of the places Hirafu went to was called Watarishima (渡島), which is often believed to be present-day Hokkaido. However, many theories exist in relation to the details of this event, including the location of Watarishima and the common belief that the Emishi in Watarishima were the ancestors of the present-day Ainu people.

During the Nara and Heian periods (710–1185), people in Hokkaido conducted trade with Dewa Province, an outpost of the Japanese central government. From the medieval ages, the people in Hokkaidō began to be called Ezo. Around the same time Hokkaidō came to be called Ezochi (蝦夷地?) or Ezogashima. The Ezo mainly relied upon hunting and fishing and obtained rice and iron through trade with the Japanese.

During the Muromachi period (1336–1573), the Japanese created a settlement at the south of the Oshima peninsula. As more people moved to the settlement to avoid battles, disputes arose between the Japanese and the Ainu. The disputes eventually developed into a war. Takeda Nobuhiro killed the Ainu leader, Koshamain,[3] and defeated the opposition in 1457. Nobuhiro's descendants became the rulers of the Matsumae-han, which was granted exclusive trading rights with the Ainu in the Azuchi-Momoyama and Edo periods (1568–1868). The Matsumae family's economy relied upon trade with the Ainu. They held authority over the south of Ezochi until the end of the Edo period in 1868.

The Matsumae clan rule over the Ainu must be understood in the context of the expansion of the Japanese feudal state. Medieval military leaders in northern Honshū maintained only tenuous political and cultural ties to the imperial court and its proxies, the Kamakura Shogunate and Ashikaga Shogunate. Feudal strongmen sometimes located themselves within medieval institutional order, taking shogunal titles, while in other times they assumed titles that seemed to give them a non-Japanese identity. In fact many of the feudal strongmen were descended from Emishi military leaders who had been assimilated into Japanese society.[4]

There were numerous revolts by the Ainu against feudal rule. The last large-scale resistance was a rebellion led by the Ainu chieftain Shakushain, in 1669-1672. After that rebellion the terms "Japanese" and "Ainu" referred to clearly distinguished groups, and the Matsumae were uniquivocally Japanese. In 1799-1821 and 1855-1858 the Edo Shogunate took direct control over Hokkaido in response to a perceived threat from Russia.

Leading up to the Meiji Restoration, the Tokugawa Shogunate realized there was a need to prepare northern defenses against a possible Russian invasion and took over control of most of Ezochi. The Shogunate made the plight of the Ainu slightly easier, but did not change the overall form of rule.[5]

Hokkaido was known as Ezochi until the Meiji Restoration. Shortly after the Boshin War in 1868, a group of Tokugawa loyalists led by Enomoto Takeaki proclaimed the island's independence as the Republic of Ezo[dubious ], but the rebellion was crushed in May 1869. Ezochi was subsequently put under control of Hakodate-fu (箱館府?), Hakodate Prefectural Government). When establishing the Development Commission (開拓使?), the Meiji Government introduced a new name. After 1869, the northern Japanese island was known as Hokkaido;[2] and regional subdivisions were established, including the provinces of Oshima, Shiribeshi, Iburi, Ishikari, Teshio, Kitami, Hidaka, Tokachi, Kushiro, Nemuro and Chishima.[6]

Statue of William S. Clark in Sapporo, with the inscription "Boys, Be Ambitious"

The primary purpose of the development commission was to secure Hokkaido before the Russians extended their control of the Far East beyond Vladivostok. Kuroda Kiyotaka was put in charge of the venture. His first step was to journey to the United States and recruit Horace Capron, President Grant's Commissioner of Agriculture. From 1871 to 1873 Capron bent his efforts to expounding Western agriculture and mining with mixed results. Capron, frustrated with obstacles to his efforts returned home in 1875. In 1876 William S. Clark arrived to found an agricultural college in Sapporo. Although he only remained a year, Clark left lasting impression on Hokkaido, inspiring the Japanese with his teachings on agriculture as well as Christianity.[7] His parting words, "Boys, be ambitious!" can be found on public buildings in Hokkaido to this day. Whatever the impact these Americans had, the population of Hokkaido boomed from 58,000 to 240,000 during that decade.[8]

In 1882, the Development Commission was abolished, and Hokkaido was separated into three prefectures, Hakodate (函館県?), Sapporo (札幌県?), and Nemuro (根室県?). In 1886, the three prefectures were abolished, and Hokkaido was put under the Hokkaido Agency (北海道庁?). Hokkaido became equal with other prefectures in 1947, when the revised Local Autonomy Law became effective. The Japanese central government established the Hokkaido Development Agency (北海道開発庁?) as an agency of the Prime Minister's Office in 1949 to maintain its executive power in Hokkaido. The Agency was absorbed by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport in 2001. The Hokkaido Bureau (北海道局?) and the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau (北海道開発局?) of the Ministry still have a strong influence on public construction projects in Hokkaido.

During the last days of World War II, about 1500 bombers, including B-29 Superfortresses, launched from Task Force 38 attacked Hokkaido through firebombing on July 14, and 15, 1945. A total of 78 cities, towns, and villages were raided and the most damaged were Hakodate, Muroran, and Nemuro.[9][10][11][12]

Naming of Hokkaido

When establishing the Development Commission (開拓使?), the Meiji Government decided to change the name of Ezochi. Matsuura Takeshirō submitted six proposals, including names such as Kaihokudō (海北道?) and Hokkaidō (北加伊道?), to the government. The government eventually decided to use the name Hokkaidō, but decided to write it as 北海道, as a compromise between 海北道 and because of the similarity with names such as Tōkaidō (東海道?). According to Matsuura, the name was thought up because the Ainu called the region Kai. Historically, many peoples who had interactions with the ancestors of the Ainu called them and their islands Kuyi, Kuye, Qoy, or some similar name, which may have some connection to the early modern form Kai. The Kai element also strongly resembles the Sino-Japanese reading of the characters 蝦夷 (Sino-Japanese Japanese pronunciation: [ka.i], Japanese kun'yomi [emisi]), which have been used for over a thousand years in China and Japan as the standard orthographic form to be used when referring to Ainu and related peoples; it is possible that Matsuura's Kai was actually an alteration, influenced by the Sino-Japanese reading of 蝦夷 Ka-i, of the Nivkh exonym for the Ainu, namely Qoy or IPA: [kʰuɣi].[13]


Sōunkyō, a gorge in the Daisetsu-zan Volcanic Area.
Satellite image of Hokkaido
The Oyashio Current colliding with the Kuroshio Current off the coast of Hokkaido. When two currents collide, they create eddies. Phytoplankton growing in the surface waters become concentrated along the boundaries of these eddies, tracing out the motions of the water.

The island of Hokkaido is located at the north end of Japan, near Russia, and has coastlines on the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Pacific Ocean. The center of the island has a number of mountains and volcanic plateaus, and there are coastal plains in all directions. Major cities include Sapporo and Asahikawa in the central region and the port of Hakodate facing Honshu.

The governmental jurisdiction of Hokkaido incorporates several smaller islands, including Rishiri, Okushiri Island, and Rebun. (By Japanese reckoning, Hokkaido also incorporates several of the Kuril Islands.) Because the prefectural status of Hokkaido is denoted by the in its name, it is rarely referred to as "Hokkaido Prefecture", except when necessary to distinguish the governmental entity from the island.

The island ranks 21st in the world by area. It is 3.6% smaller than the island of Ireland while Hispaniola is 6.1% smaller than Hokkaido. By population it ranks 20th, between Ireland and Sicily. Hokkaido's population is 4.7% less than that of the island of Ireland, and Sicily's is 12% lower than Hokkaido's.

Seismic activity

Like the rest of Japan, Hokkaido is seismically active. Aside from numerous earthquakes, the following volcanoes are still considered active (at least one eruption since 1850):

In 1993, an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 generated a tsunami which devastated Okushiri, killing 202. An earthquake of magnitude 8.0 struck near the island on September 25, 2003, at 19:50:07 (UTC).

National Parks and quasi-national parks

There are still many undisturbed forests in Hokkaido, including:

National parks
Shiretoko National Park* 知床
Akan National Park 阿寒
Kushiro Shitsugen National Park 釧路湿原
Daisetsuzan National Park 大雪山
Shikotsu-Toya National Park 支笏洞爺
Rishiri-Rebun-Sarobetsu National Park 利尻礼文サロベツ

* designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on 2005-07-14.

Quasi-national parks (準国立公園)
Abashiri Quasi-National Park 網走
Hidaka Sanmyaku-Erimo Quasi-National Park 日高山脈襟裳
Niseko-Shakotan-Otaru Kaigan Quasi-National Park ニセコ積丹小樽海岸
Ōnuma Quasi-National Park 大沼
Shokanbetsu-Teuri-Yagishiri Quasi-National Park 暑寒別天売焼尻
Ramsar sites
Kushiro Wetland ja:釧路湿原 1980-06-17
Lake Kutcharo ja:クッチャロ湖 1989-07-06
Lake Utonai ja:ウトナイ湖 1991-12-12
Kiritappu Wetland ja:霧多布湿原 1993-06-10
Lake Akkeshi, Bekkanbeushi Wetland ja:厚岸湖・別寒辺牛湿原 1993-06-10,
enlarged 2005-11-08
Miyajima Marsh ja:宮島沼 2002-11-18
Uryūnuma Wetland ja:雨竜沼湿原 2005-11-08
Sarobetsu Mire ja:サロベツ原野
Lake Tōfutsu ja:濤沸湖
Lake Akan ja:阿寒湖
Notsuke Peninsula, Notsuke Bay ja:野付半島ja:野付湾
Lake Fūren, Shunkunitai ja:風蓮湖ja:春国岱


Map of Hokkaido showing the subprefectures and the primary cities

Hokkaido is one of eight prefectures in Japan that have subprefectures (支庁 shichō). However, it is the only one of the eight to have such offices covering the whole of its territory outside the main cities (rather than having them just for outlying islands or remote areas). This is mostly due to its great size: many parts of the prefecture are simply too far away to be effectively administered by Sapporo. Subprefectural offices in Hokkaidō carry out many of the duties that prefectural offices fulfill elsewhere in Japan.

There is a plan to reorganize the 14 subprefectures as 9 general development bureaus (総合振興局 sōgō shinkō-kyoku?), but as of 2009, the implementation of the plan has stalled.

Before the current political divisions and after 1869, Hokkaidō was divided into provinces. See Former Provinces of Hokkaidō.


Satellite image of Hokkaido in winter

Hokkaido is known for its cooler summers and icy winters. Most of the island falls in the humid continental climate zone (Köppen Dfa (humid continental) in some inland lowlands, Dfb (hemiboreal) in most other areas). The average August temperature ranges from 17 to 22 °C (62.6 to 71.6 °F), while the average January temperature ranges from -12 to -4 °C (10.4 to 24.8 °F) depending on elevation and latitude. The island tends to see isolated snowstorms that develop long-lasting snowbanks, in contrast to the constant flurries seen in the Hokuriku region.

Unlike the other major islands of Japan, Hokkaido is normally not affected by the June-July rainy season and the relative lack of humidity and typically warm, rather than hot, summer weather makes its climate an attraction for tourists from other parts of Japan.

In winter, the generally high quality of powder snow and numerous mountains in Hokkaidō make it one of Japan's most popular regions for snow sports. The snowfall usually commences in earnest in November and ski resorts (such as those at Niseko, Furano and Rusutsu) usually operate between December and April. Hokkaido celebrates its winter weather at the Sapporo Snow Festival.

During the winter, passage through the Sea of Okhotsk is often complicated by large floes of drift ice. Combined with high winds that occur during winter, this frequently brings air travel and maritime activity to a halt beyond the northern coast of Hokkaido.

Major cities and towns

Hokkaido's largest city is the capital, Sapporo. Other major cities include Hakodate in the south and Asahikawa in the central region. Other important population centers include Kushiro, Obihiro, Kitami, Abashiri, and Nemuro.

Hokkaido has the highest rate of depopulation in Japan. In 2000, 152 (71.7%) of Hokkaido's 212 municipalities were shrinking. Altogether, shrinking municipalities in Japan in the same year numbered 1,171.[citation needed]


Although there is some light industry (most notably paper milling, beer brewing) most of the population is employed by the service sector. In 2001, the service sector and other tertiary industries generated more than three quarters of the gross domestic product.[15]

However, agriculture and other primary industries play a large role in Hokkaido's economy. Hokkaido has nearly one fourth of Japan's total arable land. It ranks first in the nation in the production of a host of agricultural products, including wheat, soybeans, potatoes, sugar beet, onions, pumpkins, corn, raw milk, and beef. Hokkaido also accounts for 22% of Japan's forests with a sizable timber industry. The prefecture is also first in the nation in production of marine products and aquaculture.[15]

Tourism is an important industry, especially during the cool summertime when visitors are attracted to Hokkaido's open spaces from hotter and more humid parts of Japan. During the winter, skiing and other winter sports bring other tourists, and increasingly international ones, to the island.[16]


Hokkaido's only land link to the rest of Japan is the Seikan Tunnel. Most travelers to the island arrive by air: the main airport is New Chitose Airport at Chitose, just south of Sapporo. Tokyo-Chitose is in the top 10 of the world's busiest air routes, handling 45 widebody round trips on four airlines each day. One of the airlines, Air Do was named after Hokkaido. Hokkaido can also be reached by ferry from Sendai, Niigata and some other cities, with the ferries from Tokyo dealing only in cargo.

Within Hokkaido, there is a fairly well-developed railway network (see Hokkaidō Railway Company), but many cities can only be accessed by road.

Hokkaido is home to one of Japan's three Melody Roads, which is made from grooves cut into the ground, which when driven over causes a tactile vibration and audible rumbling transmitted through the wheels into the car body.[17][18]


The Hokkaidō Prefectural Board of Education oversees public schools (except colleges and universities) in Hokkaido. Public elementary and junior high schools (except Hokkaido Noboribetsu Akebi Secondary School and schools attached to Hokkaido University of Education) are operated by municipalities, and public high schools are operated by either the prefectural board or municipalities.

Hokkaido has 37 universities (7 national, 5 local public, and 25 private universities), 34 junior colleges, and 5 colleges of technology (4 national and 1 local public colleges). National universities located in Hokkaido are:

Hokkaido prefectural government runs Sapporo Medical University, a medical school in Sapporo.


The 1972 Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo.

The sports teams listed below are based in Hokkaido.

Association football


Ice Hockey


Friendship partners

Hokkaido has relationships with several provinces, states, and other entities worldwide.[20]

As of July 2008, 73 individual municipalities in Hokkaido have sister city agreements with 111 cities in 19 different countries worldwide.[24]

See also


  1. ^ a b National Census 2010 Preliminary Results
  2. ^ a b Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Hokkaido" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 343 at Google Books.
  3. ^ a b c Japan Handbook, p. 760
  4. ^ Howell, David. "Ainu Ethnicity and the Boundaries of the Early Modern Japanese State", Past and Present 142 (February 1994), p. 142
  5. ^ Nakamura, Akemi, "Japan's last frontier took time to tame, cultivate image", Japan Times, 8 July 2008, p. 3.
  6. ^ Satow, Ernest. (1882). "The Geography of Japan" in Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Vols. 1-2, p. 88. at Google Books
  7. ^ McDougall, Walter A. (1993). Let the Sea Make a Noise, pp. 355–356.
  8. ^ McDougall, p. 357.
  9. ^ "国内各都市の戦災の状況". Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. http://www.soumu.go.jp/main_sosiki/daijinkanbou/sensai/situation/state/index.html. Retrieved 2011-01-31. (Japanese)
  10. ^ "札幌市民の戦争体験~平和に関する学習資料(1". City of Sapporo. http://www.city.sapporo.jp/shimin/heiwa/pdf_data/15.pdf. Retrieved 2011-02-01. (Japanese)
  11. ^ "北海道空襲". SETSUGEN. http://www.wisdom96.com/setsugen/shiryou/etc/CALENDAR/JUL/0714.HTML. Retrieved 2011-02-01. (Japanese)
  12. ^ "The official Chronology of the US Navy in World War Ⅱ". HYPER WAR. http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/USN-Chron/USN-Chron-1945.html. Retrieved 2011-02-01. 
  13. ^ "Chapter 3: Nivkh as an Aspiration Language," p. 53 RUG.nl
  14. ^ "General overview of area figures for Natural Parks by prefecture". Ministry of the Environment Japan. 31 March 2008. http://www.env.go.jp/en/nature/nps/park/doc/files/np_6.pdf. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  15. ^ a b "Hokkaido's Business Environment". Trade and Economic Exchange Group, Commerce and Economic Exchange Division, Department of Economic Affairs, Hokkaido Government. http://www.pref.hokkaido.jp/keizai/kz-bkkry/env/env-e.html. Retrieved 2008-12-05. 
  16. ^ Takahara, Kanako (July 8, 2008). "Boom time for Hokkaido ski resort area". The Japan Times (The Japan Times Ltd.). http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nb20080708a1.html. Retrieved 2008-09-27. 
  17. ^ Johnson, Bobbie (13 November 2007). "Japan's melody roads play music as you drive". The Guardian (Farringdon Road, London, England: GMG): p. 19 (International section). http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/nov/13/japan.gadgets. Retrieved 2008-10-20. 
  18. ^ "Your car as a musical instrument - Melody Roads". Noise Addicts. 29 September 2008. http://www.noiseaddicts.com/2008/09/car-musical-instrument-melody-roads-japan/. Retrieved 20 October 2008. 
  19. ^ Nussbaum, "Hokkaido Daigaku" in p. 343 at Google Books.
  20. ^ "Exchange Affiliates". Retrieved on 5 December 2008.
  21. ^ a b c d "Hokkaido – Alberta Relations". http://www.international.alberta.ca/documents/International/Hokkaido-AB.pdf. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  22. ^ "Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks & Wildlife Foundation". http://www.tpr.alberta.ca/asrpwf/programs/sports/ise/index.asp. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  23. ^ "Massachusetts Hokkaido Association". http://www.masshokkaido.org/Default.aspx?pageId=151052. Retrieved 2010-05-30. 
  24. ^ 市町村の姉妹友好提携 (Sister city partnerships). Retrieved on 5 December 2008. (Japanese)


External links

Coordinates: 43°N 142°E / 43°N 142°E / 43; 142

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