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     Hokkaido is an island in the northernmost of Japan and its aria is 77,984.15km^2 consisting of the 22.9% of the total land area of the country.  As an island, Hokkaido is currently being the 21st largest islands in the world.  There is no other place like Hokkaido, where you can do sightseeing, eating, playing and your will be satisfied to the fullest.  Hokkaido's economy is expected to develop further by capitalizing on abundant natural resources and preserving a culture nurtured among this unique Northern climate.

     That much you may know. Clean air, blue sky, colorful flowers, undulating hills and the majesty of the mountains...  There are so much more and cannot all mention here.  In the spring, all the flowers start to grow and the hibernating animals wake up and get ready to be active again.  In the summer, Hokkaido is rather dry with low humidity, and the weather is usually very pleasant.  In the autumn, while much delicious seasonal food becomes available, the breathtaking autumn colors mountains are seen.  In the winter, white snow covers the ground as far as the eye can see.  Each season has its different characteristics, offering various scenery, activities and food, which have been drawing large number of visitors every year from both domestically and internationally.

     In telling the history of Hokkaido, we must not forget the Ainu, who inhabited this land long before Colonial Militia settled here.  Ainu adapted to this severe Northern environment, Okhotsk, Sakhalin and the whole of Hokkaido, and established a distinct lifestyle, and culture based on their own cosmology and animism which is reverence for natural spirits.  "Ainu Culture" have been existing ever since Hokkaido was still called by Ezo and has own unique tradition and traditional arts, and it extended from about 14th century to the early 17th century.  “Ainu Culture” has been passed down from generation to generation as a valuable culture even today.  This is how today's unique Hokkaido's culture was formed. 

     However, their population fell sharply due to the government's policy of assimilating the Ainu with ethnic Japanese for the development of Hokkaido and they have been targeted since the 18th century to have their lands.  In the mid-1400 s, the Japanese extended their influence over southern Hokkaido, primarily Esashi and Matsumae.  Later, they came to oppress the Ainu.  To resist the oppression by the Japanese, the Ainu waged the Battle of Kosyamain in 1457, the Battle of Syaksyain in 1669, and the Battle of Kunasiri-Menasi in 1789.  The Ainu lost each time. After losing the Battle of Kunasiri-Menasi in particular, the Ainu fell completely under the control of the Japanese. 

     In 1869 the Meiji government established the Kaitakushi to develop Hokkaido, referring to the island as “the northern gate of the empire”.  The government urged development or many reasons: because of the nearby Russian presence, to find a role for samurai who had lost their function in society with the defeat of the shogunate, to make the island’s resources available for Japan’s modernization and to settle a stable agricultural population.

     As the Kaitakushi’s purpose was Hokkaido development, the agency created a program to encourage immigration to the island.  The Kaitakushi planned to establish agricultural communities and encouraged settlers to grow wheat and other northern crops there.

     The organization recruited some five hundred men from the Kanto region (around Tokyo) to settle in the north, specifically in the Soya, Sakhalin and Nemuro areas.  These specific locations were all strategically significant locations, given the anxiety to prevent Russian aggression against Japan.  These areas, however, also had winter weather conditions more severe than much of Hokkaido.  Not surprisingly, this colonization effort collapsed.

     During the first two years of Kaitakushi-sponsored immigration, 1869-1871, eighteen groups of immigrants came to Hokkaido.  Eleven of the groups consisted of former samurai, mostly from the Sendai region in northern Honsyu; commoners made up the other migrant parties.  Group migration became the basis for the establishment of Hokkaido communities, and the largest number of immigrants continued to come from northern Honsyu. 

     In the middle of the Meiji era (the 1880s), the number of settlers from Japan's main island greatly increased, prompting the development of coal mining, paper manufacturing, and iron- and steel-making, as well as agriculture and fishery.  About 1.9 million people moved to Hokkaido between 1890 and 1936, according to the prefectural government.  Many were from the Tohoku and Hokuriku regions.

     However, not all Hokkaido's pioneers came voluntarily, and not all of them filled their lungs with the heady air of freedom, certainly not those who arrived in chains and with numbers stitched on the collars of their red kimonos.  Figuratively speaking, Red kimono means a prisoner.  Such were the convict laborers housed at the Abashiri Prison.   While farmers were chopping down trees and weeding out the stubborn dwarf bamboo, prisoners chained two by two and watched over by guards armed with samurai swords toiled from sunup to dark, laying roads through thick primeval forests.   The road from Abashiri to Sapporo, roughly 250 km, is said to have taken 1000 prisoners one year to complete.   One fifth of them died of exhaustion during one year.  If they can survive fortunately, how could they become alive?  For the rest of them life they are only made to do the forced labor.

     Japanese history was shaped by great men and women. Not so Hokkaido history.  Hokkaido has no towering figures among its founders.  Hokkaido was built by people who wouldn't have come if they had been content where they were, if they hadn't been victims of disaster or misfortune, or prey to restlessness that an earlier age might have branded criminal.  They cleared primeval forests, survived fierce winters, cultivated undeveloped land - and learned how to keep the bears at bay.

     In my opinion, we must not forget that richness might consist on the sacrifice.










yamazaki/prt (last edited 2011-01-28 17:28:15 by yamazaki)