Japanese transcription(s)
 • Japanese北海道
 • RōmajiHokkaidō
Flag of Hokkaido
Official logo of Hokkaido
Location of Hokkaido
Largest citySapporo
SubdivisionsDistricts: 74, Municipalities: 179
 • GovernorNaomichi Suzuki
 • Total83,423.84 km2 (32,210.12 sq mi)
Area rank1st
 (May 31, 2019)
 • Total5,281,297
 • Rank8th
 • Density63/km2 (160/sq mi)
BirdTanchō (red-crowned crane, Grus japonensis)
FlowerHamanasu (rugosa rose, Rosa rugosa)
TreeEzomatsu (Jezo spruce, Picea jezoensis)

Hokkaido (北海道, Hokkaidō, lit. "Northern Sea Circuit"; Japanese: [hokːaꜜidoː] (About this soundlisten), English: /) is the second largest main island of Japan, and the largest and northernmost prefecture.[1] The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu. It was formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso.[2] The two islands are connected by the undersea railway Seikan Tunnel. The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital, Sapporo, which is also its only ordinance-designated city. About 43 kilometers (26 mi) north of Hokkaido lies Sakhalin Island and to the east and northeast are the Kuril Islands, which are administered by Russia, although the four most southerly are claimed by Japan—see Kuril Islands dispute.


Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.

The Jomon culture and the associated hunter-gatherer lifestyle flourished in Hokkaido, beginning over 15,000 years ago. Contrasting the Island of Honshu, Hokkaido saw an absence of conflict during this time period. Jomon beliefs in natural spirits are theorized to be the origins of Ainu spirituality. Beginning 2000 years ago, the island shifted towards Yayoi and much of the Island's population shifted away from hunting and gathering and towards agriculture.[4]

The Nihon Shoki, finished in 720 AD, is often said to be the first mention of Hokkaido in recorded history. According to the text, Abe no Hirafu[5] 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 concerning 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 Middle Ages, the people in Hokkaido began to be called Ezo. Hokkaido subsequently became known as Ezochi (蝦夷地, lit. "Ezo-land")[6] or Ezogashima (蝦夷ヶ島, lit. "Island of the Ezo"). The Ezo mainly relied upon hunting and fishing and obtained rice and iron through trade with the Japanese.

Palace reception near Hakodate in 1751. Ainu bringing gifts.

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,[5] 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 samurai and the Ainu, c. 1775

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 (ex. Northern Fujiwara, Akita clan) 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.[7] The Matsumae clan were of Yamato descent like other ethnic Japanese people, whereas the Emishi of northern Honshu were a distinctive group related to the Ainu. The Emishi were conquered and integrated into the Japanese state dating back as far as the 8th century, and as result began to lose their distinctive culture and ethnicity as they became minorities. By the time the Matsumae clan ruled over the Ainu most of the Emishi were ethnically mixed and physically closer to Japanese than they were to Ainu. This dovetails nicely with the "transformation" theory that native Jōmon peoples changed gradually with the infusion of Yayoi immigrants into the Tōhoku rather than the "replacement" theory which posits that one population (Jōmon) was replaced by another (Yayoi).[8]

Matsumae Takahiro, a Matsumae lord of the late Edo period. December 10, 1829 – June 9, 1866

There were numerous revolts by the Ainu against the feudal rule. The last large-scale resistance was Shakushain's Revolt in 1669–1672. In 1789, a smaller movement, the Menashi–Kunashir rebellion, was also crushed. After that rebellion, the terms "Japanese" and "Ainu" referred to clearly distinguished groups, and the Matsumae were unequivocally 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.[9]

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 temporarily occupied the island (the polity is commonly but mistakenly known as the Republic of Ezo), 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, Kaitakushi), 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.[10]

The Ainu, Hokkaido's indigenous people

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 a lasting impression on Hokkaido, inspiring the Japanese with his teachings on agriculture as well as Christianity.[11] His parting words, "Boys, be ambitious!", can be found on public buildings in Hokkaido to this day. The population of Hokkaido boomed from 58,000 to 240,000 during that decade.[12]

In 1882, the Development Commission was abolished. Transportation on the island was still underdeveloped, so the prefecture was split into several "sub-prefectures" (支庁 shichō), namely Hakodate Prefecture (函館県, Hakodate-ken), Sapporo Prefecture (札幌県, Sapporo-ken), and Nemuro Prefecture (根室県, Nemuro-ken), that could fulfill administrative duties of the prefectural government and keep tight control over the developing island. In 1886, the three prefectures were demoted, and Hokkaido was put under the Hokkaido Agency (北海道庁, Hokkaidō-chō). These sub-prefectures still exist today, although they have much less power than they possessed before and during World War II; they now exist primarily to handle paperwork and other bureaucratic functions.

In mid-July 1945, various shipping ports, cities and military facilities in Hokkaido were attacked by the United States Navy's Task Force 38. On 14–15 July that year, aircraft operating from the task force's aircraft carriers sank and damaged a large number of ships in ports along Hokkaido's southern coastline as well as in northern Honshu. In addition, on 15 July a force of three battleships and two light cruisers bombarded the city of Muroran.[13] Before the Japanese surrender was formalized, the Soviet Union made preparations for an invasion of Hokkaido, but President Harry Truman made it clear that the surrender of all of the Japanese home islands would be carried out by General MacArthur per the 1943 Cairo Declaration.[14]

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, Hokkaidō Kaihatsuchō) 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, Hokkaidō-kyoku) and the Hokkaido Regional Development Bureau (北海道開発局, Hokkaidō Kaihatsukyoku) of the Ministry still have a strong influence on public construction projects in Hokkaido.

Naming of Hokkaido

When establishing the Development Commission (開拓使, Kaitakushi), 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 北加伊道 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[dubious ] 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 On'yomi, or Sino-Japanese, reading of the characters 蝦夷 (on'yomi as [ka.i, カイ], kun'yomi as [e.mi.ɕi, えみし]) 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: [kʰuɣɪ].[15]

There is no known established Ainu language word for the island of Hokkaido. However, the Ainu people did have a name for all of their domain, which included Hokkaido along with the Kuril Islands, Sakhalin, and parts of northern Honshu, which was Aynu Mosir (アィヌ・モシ), a name taken by the modern Ainu to refer to their traditional homeland.[16][17][18][19][20] "Ainu Mosir" literally translates as "The Land Where People (the Ainu) Live", and it was traditionally used to be contrasted with Kamuy Mosir, "The Land of the Kamuy (spirits)".[21]

In 1947, Hokkaido became a full-fledged prefecture, but the -ken suffix was never added to its name, so the -dō suffix came to be understood to mean "prefecture". "Hokkai-do-ken" (literally "North Sea Province Prefecture") is, therefore, technically speaking, a redundant term, although it is occasionally used to differentiate the government from the island itself. The prefecture's government calls itself the "Hokkaido Government" rather than the "Hokkaido Prefectural Government".

Other Languages
Acèh: Hokkaido
Afrikaans: Hokkaido
አማርኛ: ሆካይዶ
Ænglisc: Hokkaido
العربية: هوكايدو
অসমীয়া: হোক্কাইডো
asturianu: Hokkaidō
azərbaycanca: Hokkaydo
تۆرکجه: هوکایدو
Bân-lâm-gú: Hokkaidô
башҡортса: Хоккайдо
беларуская: Хакайда
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Хакайда
български: Хокайдо
Boarisch: Hokkaido
བོད་ཡིག: ཧོ་ཁའི་དོ།
bosanski: Hokkaido
brezhoneg: Hokkaido
català: Hokkaido
čeština: Hokkaidó
Cymraeg: Hokkaidō
dansk: Hokkaido
Deutsch: Hokkaidō
eesti: Hokkaidō
Ελληνικά: Χοκκάιντο
español: Hokkaidō
Esperanto: Hokajdo
euskara: Hokkaido
فارسی: هوکایدو
føroyskt: Hokkaido
français: Hokkaidō
Gaeilge: Hokkaidō
Gàidhlig: Hokkaidō
galego: Hokkaido
客家語/Hak-kâ-ngî: Hokkaidō
한국어: 홋카이도
Hausa: Hokkaido
հայերեն: Հոկայդո
हिन्दी: होक्काइदो
hornjoserbsce: Hokkaido
hrvatski: Hokkaido
Ilokano: Hokkaido
Bahasa Indonesia: Prefektur Hokkaido
Interlingue: Hokkaidō
íslenska: Hokkaidō
italiano: Hokkaidō
עברית: הוקאידו
Jawa: Hokkaido
Kapampangan: Hokkaidō
ქართული: ჰოკაიდო
қазақша: Хоккайдо
kurdî: Hokkaidō
Кыргызча: Хоккайдо
Latina: Esonia
latviešu: Hokaido
lietuvių: Hokaidas
magyar: Hokkaidó
македонски: Хокаидо
മലയാളം: ഹൊക്കൈഡൊ
მარგალური: ჰოკაიდო
مازِرونی: هوکایدو جزیره
Bahasa Melayu: Hokkaidō
Mìng-dĕ̤ng-ngṳ̄: Hokkaidō
монгол: Хоккайдо
Nederlands: Hokkaido (Japan)
日本語: 北海道
Nordfriisk: Hokkaidō
norsk: Hokkaido
norsk nynorsk: Hokkaido
Novial: Hokkaido
occitan: Hokkaidō
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Xokkaydo
پنجابی: ہوکائیڈو
ភាសាខ្មែរ: តំបន់ហុកកៃដូ
Tok Pisin: Hokkaido
polski: Hokkaido
português: Hokkaido
rumantsch: Hokkaidō
Runa Simi: Hokkaido
русский: Хоккайдо
Scots: Hokkaido
Seeltersk: Hokkaidō
shqip: Hokaido
Simple English: Hokkaidō
slovenčina: Hokkaido
slovenščina: Hokaido
ślůnski: Hokkaido
کوردی: ھۆکایدۆ
српски / srpski: Хокаидо
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Hokkaidō
Sunda: Hokkaido
suomi: Hokkaidō
svenska: Hokkaido
Tagalog: Hokkaidō
தமிழ்: ஹொக்கைடோ
татарча/tatarça: Хоккайдо
тоҷикӣ: Хоккайдо
Türkçe: Hokkaidō
українська: Хоккайдо
ئۇيغۇرچە / Uyghurche: خوككايدو ئارىلى
vèneto: Hokkaidō
Tiếng Việt: Hokkaidō
文言: 北海道
Winaray: Hokkaido
吴语: 北海道
ייִדיש: האקיידא
粵語: 北海道
žemaitėška: Hokaids
中文: 北海道