Hokkaidō [北海道(ほっかいどう)]

nihonchizu hokkaido.png

Hokkaidō[北海道(ほっかいどう)] is one of 47 To-dō-fu-ken[都道府県(とどうふけん)](prefectures) which consists of 1 To[都](Tokyo Metropolis), 1 Dō[道](Hokkaidō), 2 Fu[府](Osaka and Kyoto Prefectures), 43 Ken[県].

That is the largest and northernmost To-dō-fu-ken. Its total area is 83,424㎢ and that is 22% of the land of Japan, Its population is 5,370,000(in 2017). The prefectural capital is Sapporo[札幌(さっぽろ)] which is the 5th largest city in Japan.

Sapporo Clock Tower
Sapporo Clock Tower: That is a symbol building of Sapporo.

Monument of the northernmost point of Japan at Cape Sōya, Wakkanai City.JPG
Monument of the northernmost point of Japan
at Cape Sōya[宗谷岬(そうやみさき)], Wakkanai[稚内(わっかない)] City

Hokkaidō also refers to the main island of Hokkaidō as a municipality. This island is the second largest island in Japan after Honshū[本州(ほんしゅう)]. Other than this island, Hokkaidō has also small islands such as Rishiri[利尻(りしり)], Rebun[礼文(れぶん)] and Okushiri[奥尻(おくしり)] Islands.

Hokkaidō is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk and Hokkaidō Island is connected with Aomori Prefecture in Honshū by a submarine railway tunnel called "Seikan Tunnel[青函(せいかん)トンネル]".

Rishiri Island
Rishiri Island

Hokkaidō is cool and dry compared to other regions in summer and very cold in winter. The lowest temperature in Japan, -41.0℃ was recorded in Asahikawa[旭川(あさひかわ)], Hokkaidō in 1902. Other regions have rainy season in early summer but Hokkaidō does not.

Hokkaidō was originally the land of Ainu[アイヌ] people which are indigenous people of Hokkaidō, far east of Russia(Sakhalin, Kuril Islands and Kamchatka Peninsula). Yamato people[大和民族(やまとみんぞく)] which is the major ethnic group in Japan had traded with Ainu since long ago.

Ainu people

In the 15th century, a part of Yamato people gradually immigrated to southern part of Hokkaidō which was called "Ezo-chi[蝦夷地(えぞち)]".

In 1457, a conflict occurred between them and the head of Ainu, Koshamain[コシャマイン] rose in revolt against Yamato people. But he was killed and the revolt was suppressed by Nobuhiro Kakizaki[蠣崎信弘(かきざきのぶひろ)]. Kakizaki clan gained the supremacy of Ezo-chi. Kakizaki renamed to Matsumae[松前(まつまえ)] in the Edo Period and Ezo-chi was governed by Matsumae Domain.

Matsumae Castle
Matsumae Castle (reconstruction): It was the castle of Matsumae clan and the last Japanese-style castle built in 1854.

In the Meiji Period, 1869, Ezo-chi was renamed to Hokkaidō following 5 Ki 7 Dō[五畿七道(ごきしちどう)]. Ki[幾] consisted of five provinces around Kansai Region and Dō[道] consisted of seven local regions containing other provinces. 5 Ki 7 Dō is not used but "Hokkaidō" has remained up to now.

People widely immigrated to Hokkaidō in the Meiji Period as Tonden-hei[屯田兵(とんでんへい)]. The duty of Tonden-hei was reclamation of the land and defense against Russian invasion.

After that, Hokkaidō thrived on coal mining but the serious depopulation has progressed with the decline of coal industry.

Most Ainu people blended with Yamato people and pure Ainu hardly existed now. But many place names in Hokkaidō derive from Ainu language.

Traditional clothes of Ainu
Traditional clothes of Ainu

Hokkaidō is rich in nature. That is more magnificent than other regions. There are many beautiful mountains, lakes, coasts, and many endemic animals such as Kita-kitsune[キタキツネ](Ezo red fox) and Ezo-shika[エゾシカ](Ezo deer) and plants live.


Daisetsu Mountains[大雪山(だいせつざん)] has the highest peak, Mt. Asahi-dake[旭岳(あさひだけ)](2,291m) in Hokkaidō. Many animals and alpine plants live there and the various scenery is popular with hikers and climbers. The best season is mid-September and the mountains are tinged with colored leaves and snow.

Mt. Asahi-dake
Mt. Asahi-dake

Mt. Shōwa-shinzan
Mt. Shōwa-shinzan[昭和新山(しょうわしんざん)](398m): This is a young mountain that was born due to the uplift of land from 1944 to 45.

Lake Mashū[摩周湖(ましゅうこ)] is the second most transparent lake in the world after Lake Baikal(Russia). The lake is often covered with fog but you can view the picturesque blue lake on a clear day.

Lake Mashū
Lake Mashū

Lake Akan[阿寒湖(あかんこ)] is famous as a habitat of Marimo[マリモ](Aegagropila linnaei) which is an algae grows spherically. And there is an Onsen[温泉(おんせん)](hot spring) town at the lakeside.

Marimo exhibition and observation center
Marimo exhibition and observation center, Chūrui Island on Lake Akan

Kushiro Marshland[釧路湿原(くしろしつげん)] is the largest marshland in Japan. That is famous for a colony of Tanchō[タンチョウ](red-crowned crane).

Kushiro Marshland.jpg
Kushiro Marshland


Shiretoko[知床(しれとこ)] is a peninsula surrounded by the Sea of Okhotsk and that is located on northeastern Hokkaidō. The most part of peninsula consists of steep mountains and that forms a unique and rich ecosystem. Shiretoko is a habitat of many animals such as Higuma[ヒグマ](brown bear), Ezo-shika, Shima-fukurō[シマフクロウ](Blakiston's fish owl) and so on. Shiretoko is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site.

Shiretoko Five Lakes
Shiretoko Five Lakes

Higuma at Shiretoko

Ko-ezo-tsuga-zakura at Shiretoko

Other than these, there are many fascinating spots in Hokkaidō. Vast fields are spread out in the countryside like Europe and it is not seen much in other place of Japan. In Furano[富良野(ふらの)], you can enjoy viewing colorful flower fields in summer. Especially, Furano is famous for lavender flowers.

Hokkaidō is not muggy in summer. Therefore, that is popular as a destination of summer vacation and you can enjoy driving through the relaxing nature.

Flower fields in Furano
Flower fields in Furano

Landscape of fields in Biei[美瑛(びえい)] Town

Aoi Ike
Aoi Ike[青い池(あおいいけ)](Blue Pond) in Biei:
This spot has grown in popularity in recent years.

There are many Onsen in Hokkaidō. Among them, Noboribetsu[登別(のぼりべつ)] is known as a large Onsen town. Jigoku-dani[地獄谷(じごくだに)](literally means "hell valley") is the most major spot of Noboribetsu. That is a geothermal zone where fumes and hot water burst out from the ground.

Noboribetsu Jigoku-dani

Asahiyama Zoo.jpg
Seal House at Asahiyama Zoo[旭山動物園(あさひやまどうぶつえん)], Asahikawa City: This zoo is popular for display designed to be able to observe behavior of animals in nature.

Historical monuments and buildings do not remain much in Hokkaidō. But historical sites after the mid-19th are well-preserved.

In Hakodate[函館(はこだて)], there are historical places such as a western-style fort, Goryōkaku[五稜郭(ごりょうかく)], old churches and western-style buildings.

Hakodate is also known as its morning market and you can see scenic night view from Mt. Hakodate.


Night view from Mt. Hakodate
Night view from Mt. Hakodate

Otaru[小樽(おたる)] is famous for the old canal district. And Esashi[江差(えさし)] is an old port town and historical buildings remain.

Otaru Canal
Otaru Canal

Hokkaidō is very cold in winter and powder snow suitable for skiing and snowboarding falls. In 1972, Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo and that was the first Winter Olympics in Asia.

There are many ski resorts such as Niseko[ニセコ], Rusutsu[ルスツ] and Tomamu[トマム]. Especially, Niseko is popular not only with Japanese but with people from other countries.

Niseko and Mount Yōtei

Other than winter sports, Hokkaidō in winter is attractive place. In February, Sapporo Snow Festival[さっぽろ雪(ゆき)まつり] is held, and snow and ice statues are exhibited. This is the most popular winter festival in Japan and about 2 million people visits.

In the northeastern coast, you can observe Ryūhyō[流氷(りゅうひょう)](drift ice) from January to March.

Sapporo Snow Festival - Ōdōri Site
Sapporo Snow Festival

Ryūhyō at Abashiri
Ryūhyō at Abashiri

Hokkaidō has vast and fertile lands. Therefore, agriculture and dairy industry is very active. That is the largest production area of potato, corn, pumpkin, onion, asparagus, milk, etc.

Fishery is also a major industry and that is famous for crab, sea urchin, salmon, ikra[イクラ](salmon roe), Kombu[昆布(こんぶ)](kelp). Many of these foods from Hokkaidō are high quality and popular throughout the country.

Delicious local foods are one of fascination point in Hokkaidō. In fishing ports, you can fresh seafood and Sushi.

Jingisukan[ジンギスカン] is a mutton or lamb BBQ dish and that goes well with beer which is a specialty of Hokkaidō. Soup curry[スープカレー] using various local vegetables is a specialty of Sapporo. In Obihiro[帯広(おびひろ)], Buta-don[豚丼(ぶたどん)](roasted pork seasoned with sweet sauce on the rice bowl) is popular.

Ramens are specialties in Sapporo, Hakodate and Asahikawa. Each Ramen soup is different. Sapporo Ramen is Miso soup, Hakodate Ramen is salt soup and Asahikawa Ramen is soy sauce soup.


Soup Curry
Soup Curry

Matusumae-zuke[松前漬け(まつまえづけ)]: This is a seafood pickles which is a local dish of the southern Hokkaidō.

Carved wooden bear is a representative craft in Hokkaidō and that is sold throughout the island. Nipopo[ニポポ] is also a wooden craft. That is a wooden child doll which was originally made by Ainu and a souvenir of Abashiri[網走(あばしり)].

Carved wooden bear
Carved wooden bear


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