Hokkaido (Japanese: 北海道, Hepburn: Hokkaidō, literally "Northern Sea Circuit") is the second largest island of Japan and comprises the largest and northernmost prefecture.[1] The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu; the two islands are connected by the undersea railway Seikan Tunnel.


Japanese transcription(s)
Largest citySapporo
SubdivisionsDistricts: 74, Municipalities: 179
  GovernorNaomichi Suzuki
  Total83,423.84 km2 (32,210.12 sq mi)
Area rank1st
 (May 31, 2019)
  Density63/km2 (160/sq mi)
ISO 3166 codeJP-01
BirdTanchō (red-crowned crane, Grus japonensis)
FlowerHamanasu (rugosa rose, Rosa rugosa)
TreeEzomatsu (Jezo spruce, Picea jezoensis)

The largest city on Hokkaido is its capital, Sapporo, which is also its only ordinance-designated city. Sakhalin lies about 43 kilometers (26 mi) to the north of Hokkaido, and to the east and northeast are the Kuril Islands, which are administered by Russia, though the four most southerly are claimed by Japan. Hokkaido was formerly known as Ezo, Yezo, Yeso, or Yesso.[2]


Former Hokkaidō Government Office in Chūō-ku, Sapporo

When establishing the Development Commission, 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. 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].[3]

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.[4][5][6][7][8] "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)".[9]

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. The prefecture's government calls itself the "Hokkaido Government" rather than the "Hokkaido Prefectural Government".


Early history

Historical population
YearPop.±% p.a.

During the Jomon period the local culture and the associated hunter-gatherer lifestyle flourished in Hokkaido, beginning over 15,000 years ago. In contrast to 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. About 2,000 years ago, the island was colonized by Yayoi people, and much of the island's population shifted away from hunting and gathering towards agriculture.[12]

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[13] 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")[14] 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.

Feudal Japan

Palace reception near Hakodate in 1751. Ainu bringing gifts (cf. omusha)

During the Muromachi period (1336–1573), the Japanese created a settlement at the south of the Oshima Peninsula, with a series of fortified residences such as that of Shinoridate. As more people moved to the settlement to avoid battles, disputes arose between the Japanese and the Ainu. The disputes eventually developed into war. Takeda Nobuhiro killed the Ainu leader, Koshamain,[13] 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.

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 Honshu (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 shogunate 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.[15] 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. From this, the "transformation" theory postulates that native Jōmon peoples changed gradually with the infusion of Yayoi immigrants into the Tōhoku, in contrast to the "replacement" theory that posits the Jōmon was replaced by the Yayoi.[16]

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 known as the Menashi–Kunashir rebellion was crushed. After that rebellion, the terms "Japanese" and "Ainu" referred to clearly distinguished groups, and the Matsumae were unequivocally Japanese.

After the arrival of Adam Laxman in 1799–1821 and 1855–1858, the Tokugawa 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.[17]

Meiji Restoration

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.[18]

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 Ulysses S. 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.[19] 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.[20]

In 1882, the Development Commission was abolished. Transportation on the island was 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.

World War II

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, 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.[21] Before the Japanese surrender was formalized, the Soviet Union made preparations for an invasion of Hokkaido, but U.S. President Harry Truman made it clear that the surrender of all of the Japanese home islands would be carried out by General Douglas MacArthur per the 1943 Cairo Declaration.[22]

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.


Native name:
LocationEast Asia
Coordinates43°N 142°E
ArchipelagoJapanese archipelago
Area77,981.87 km2 (30,108.97 sq mi)
Highest elevation2,290 m (7510 ft)
Highest pointMount Asahi
Largest settlementSapporo (pop. 1,890,561)
Population5,377,435 (September 30, 2016)
Pop. density64.5/km2 (167.1/sq mi)
Ethnic groupsAinu
Geofeatures map of Hokkaido
Hokkaido seen from the International Space Station
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 in the north of Japan, near Russia (Sakhalin Oblast). It has coastlines on the Sea of Japan (to the west of the island), the Sea of Okhotsk (to the north), and the Pacific Ocean (to the east). The center of the island is mountainous, with volcanic plateaux. Hokkaido has multiple plains such as the Ishikari Plain 3,800 km2 (1,500 sq mi), Tokachi Plain 3,600 km2 (1,400 sq mi), the Kushiro Plain 2,510 km2 (970 sq mi) (the largest wetland in Japan) and Sarobetsu Plain 200 km2 (77 sq mi). Hokkaido is 83,423.84 km2 (32,210.12 sq mi) which make it the second-largest island of Japan.

The Tsugaru Strait separates Hokkaido from Honshu (Aomori Prefecture);[2] La Pérouse Strait separates Hokkaido from the island of Sakhalin in Russia; Nemuro Strait separates Hokkaido from Kunashir Island in the Russian Kuril Islands.

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.) Hokkaido Prefecture is the largest and northernmost Japanese prefecture. The island ranks 21st in the world by area.


Hokkaido has the third-largest population of Japan's five main islands, with 5,383,579 people as of 2015.[1][23] It has the lowest population-density in Japan with just 64.5/km2 (160/sq mi) (2016). By population it ranks 20th globally. Major cities include Sapporo and Asahikawa in the central region and the port of Hakodate facing Honshu in the south. Sapporo is the largest city of Hokkaido and 5th-largest in Japan. It had a population of 1,957,914 as of 31 May  2019 and a population density of 1,746/km2 (4,520/sq mi).

City(-shi) Inhabitants
September 30, 2016
Sapporo 1,957,914
Asahikawa 343,393
Hakodate 266,192
Kushiro 174,938
Tomakomai 173,226
Obihiro 168,258
Otaru 121,269
Kitami 120,189
Ebetsu 119,247
Muroran 87,498
Iwamizawa 84,127
Chitose 96,372
Eniwa 69,215

Flora and fauna

There are three populations of the Ussuri brown bear found on the island. There are more brown bears in Hokkaido than anywhere else in Asia besides Russia. The Hokkaido brown bear is separated into three distinct lineages. There are only eight lineages in the world.[24] Those on Honshu died out long ago.

The native conifer species in northern Hokkaido is the Abies sachalinensis (sakhalin fir)[25] The hydrangea hirta species is also located on the island.

Geologic activity

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

  • Hokkaido Koma-ga-take
  • Mount Usu and Shōwa-shinzan
  • Mount Tarumae
  • Mount Tokachi
  • Mount Meakan

In 1993, an earthquake of magnitude 7.7 generated a tsunami which devastated Okushiri, killing 202 inhabitants. An earthquake of magnitude 8.3 struck near the island on 26 September 2003. On 6 September 2018, an earthquake of magnitude 6.6 struck with its epicenter near the city of Tomakomai, causing a blackout across the whole island.[26]

On May 16, 2021,an earthquake measuring 6.1 on the Richter scale struck off Japan's Hokkaido prefecture.[27]


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-Tōya 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 (国定公園)
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
  • Twelve prefectural natural parks (道立自然公園). The prefectural natural parks cover 146,802 ha, the largest area of any prefecture.[28]
    • Akkeshi Prefectural Natural Park
    • Esan Prefectural Natural Park
    • Furano-Ashibetsu Prefectural Natural Park
    • Hiyama Prefectural Natural Park
    • Kariba-Motta Prefectural Natural Park
    • Matsumae-Yagoshi Prefectural Natural Park
    • North Okhotsk Prefectural Natural Park
    • Nopporo Shinrin Kōen Prefectural Natural Park
    • Notsuke-Fūren Prefectural Natural Park
    • Sharidake Prefectural Natural Park
    • Shumarinai Prefectural Natural Park
    • Teshiodake Prefectural Natural Park
Ramsar wetland sites
Kushiro Wetland 釧路湿原1980-06-17
Lake Kutcharo クッチャロ湖1989-07-06
Lake Utonai ウトナイ湖1991-12-12
Kiritappu Wetland 霧多布湿原1993-06-10
Lake Akkeshi, Bekkanbeushi Wetland 厚岸湖別寒辺牛湿原1993-06-10,
enlarged 2005-11-08
Miyajima Marsh 宮島沼2002-11-18
Uryūnuma Wetland 雨竜沼湿原2005-11-08
Sarobetsu plain サロベツ原野
Lake Tōfutsu 濤沸湖
Lake Akan 阿寒湖
Notsuke Peninsula, Notsuke Bay 野付半島野付湾
Lake Fūren, Shunkunitai 風蓮湖春国岱


Map of Hokkaido showing the subprefectures and the primary cities
Subprefecture Japanese Main City Largest Municipality Pop.
1 Sorachi 空知総合振興局 Iwamizawa Iwamizawa 338,485 5,791.19 10 cities14 towns
a Ishikari 石狩振興局 Sapporo Sapporo 2,324,878 3,539.86 6 cities1 town1 village
2 Shiribeshi 後志総合振興局 Kutchan Otaru 234,984 4,305.83 1 city13 towns6 villages
3 Iburi 胆振総合振興局 Muroran Tomakomai 419,115 3,698.00 4 cities7 towns
b Hidaka 日高振興局 Urakawa Shinhidaka 76,084 4,811.97 7 towns
4 Oshima 渡島総合振興局 Hakodate Hakodate 433,475 3,936.46 2 cities9 towns
c Hiyama 檜山振興局 Esashi Setana 43,210 2,629.94 7 towns
5 Kamikawa 上川総合振興局 Asahikawa Asahikawa 527,575 10,619.20 4 cities17 towns2 villages
d Rumoi 留萌振興局 Rumoi Rumoi 53,916 3,445.75 1 city6 towns1 village
6 Sōya 宗谷総合振興局 Wakkanai Wakkanai 71,423 4,625.09 1 city8 towns1 village
7 Okhotsk オホーツク総合振興局 Abashiri Kitami 309,487 10,690.62 3 cities14 towns1 village
8 Tokachi 十勝総合振興局 Obihiro Obihiro 353,291 10,831.24 1 city16 towns2 villages
9 Kushiro 釧路総合振興局 Kushiro Kushiro 252,571 5,997.38 1 city6 towns1 village
e Nemuro 根室振興局 Nemuro Nemuro 84,035 3,406.23 1 city4 towns
* Japan claims the southern part of Kuril Islands (Northern Territories), currently administered by Russia,
belong to Nemuro Subprefecture divided into six villages. However, the table above excludes these islands' data.

As of April 2010, Hokkaido has 9 General Subprefectural Bureaus (総合振興局) and 5 Subprefectural Bureaus (振興局). 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 because of its great size; many parts of the prefecture are simply too far away to be effectively administered by Sapporo. Subprefectural offices in Hokkaido carry out many of the duties that prefectural offices fulfill elsewhere in Japan.


Hokkaido is divided into 179 municipalities.

Map of Hokkaido as seen by municipalities
     Government Ordinance Designated City      City      Town      Village


There are 35 cities in Hokkaido:

Name Area (km2) Population Subprefecture Map
Rōmaji Kanji
Abashiri 網走市 470.94 34,919 Okhotsk Subprefecture
Akabira 赤平市 129.88 10,686 Sorachi Subprefecture
Asahikawa 旭川市 747.6 333,530 Kamikawa Subprefecture
Ashibetsu 芦別市 865.02 14,260 Sorachi Subprefecture
Bibai 美唄市 277.61 24,768 Sorachi Subprefecture
Chitose 千歳市 594.5 96,475 Ishikari Subprefecture
Date 伊達市 444.28 34,898 Iburi Subprefecture
Ebetsu 江別市 187.57 119,086 Ishikari Subprefecture
Eniwa 恵庭市 294.87 68,883 Ishikari Subprefecture
Fukagawa 深川市 529.12 21,618 Sorachi Subprefecture
Furano 富良野市 600.97 22,715 Kamikawa Subprefecture
Hakodate 函館市 677.89 264,845 Oshima Subprefecture
Hokuto 北斗市 397.29 46,083 Oshima Subprefecture
Ishikari 石狩市 721.86 58,755 Ishikari Subprefecture
Iwamizawa 岩見沢市 481.1 84,127 Sorachi Subprefecture
Kitahiroshima 北広島市 118.54 58,918 Ishikari Subprefecture
Kitami 北見市 1,427.56 119,135 Okhotsk Subprefecture
Kushiro 釧路市 1,362.75 167,875 Kushiro Subprefecture
Mikasa 三笠市 302.64 9,056 Sorachi Subprefecture
Monbetsu 紋別市 830.7 22,983 Okhotsk Subprefecture
Muroran 室蘭市 80.65 93,716 Iburi Subprefecture
Nayoro 名寄市 535.23 28,373 Kamikawa Subprefecture
Nemuro 根室市 512.63 27,109 Nemuro Subprefecture
Noboribetsu 登別市 212.11 49,523 Iburi Subprefecture
Obihiro 帯広市 618.94 165,851 Tokachi Subprefecture
Otaru 小樽市 243.13 115,333 Shiribeshi Subprefecture
Rumoi 留萌市 297.44 22,242 Rumoi Subprefecture
Sapporo (capital) 札幌市 1,121.26 1,973,432 Ishikari Subprefecture
Shibetsu 士別市 1,119.29 19,794 Kamikawa Subprefecture
Sunagawa 砂川市 78.69 17,589 Sorachi Subprefecture
Takikawa 滝川市 115.9 41,306 Sorachi Subprefecture
Tomakomai 苫小牧市 561.49 174,216 Iburi Subprefecture
Utashinai 歌志内市 55.99 3,019 Sorachi Subprefecture
Wakkanai 稚内市 761.47 33,869 Sōya Subprefecture
Yūbari 夕張市 763.2 8,612 Sorachi Subprefecture

Towns and villages

These are the towns and villages in Hokkaido Prefecture:

Name Area (km2) Population Subprefecture District Type Map
Rōmaji Kanji
Abira 安平町 237.13 8,323 Iburi Subprefecture Yūfutsu District Town
Aibetsu 愛別町 250.13 2,992 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Akaigawa 赤井川村 280.11 1,157 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Yoichi District Village
Akkeshi 八石町 734.82 9,048 Kushiro Subprefecture Akkeshi District Town
Ashoro 足寄町 1,408.09 7,150 Tokachi Subprefecture Ashoro District Town
Assabu 厚沢部町 460.58 3,884 Hiyama Subprefecture Hiyama District Town
Atsuma 厚真町 404.56 4,659 Iburi Subprefecture Yūfutsu District Town
Betsukai 別海町 1,320.15 15,179 Nemuro Subprefecture Notsuke District Town
Biei 美瑛町 677.16 10,374 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Bifuka 美深町 672.14 4,609 Kamikawa Subprefecture Nakagawa District Town
Bihoro 美幌町 438.36 20,920 Okhotsk Subprefecture Abashiri District Town
Biratori 平取町 743.16 5,305 Hidaka Subprefecture Saru District Town
Chippubetsu 秩父別町 47.26 2,463 Sorachi Subprefecture Uryū District Town
Enbetsu 遠別町 590.86 2,966 Rumoi Subprefecture Teshio District Town
Engaru 遠軽町 1,332.32 20,757 Okhotsk Subprefecture Monbetsu District Town
Erimo えりも町 283.93 4,954 Hidaka Subprefecture Horoizumi District Town
Esashi 江差町 109.57 8,117 Hiyama Subprefecture Hiyama District Town
Esashi 枝幸町 1,115.67 8,578 Sōya Subprefecture Esashi District Town
Fukushima 福島町 187.23 4,390 Oshima Subprefecture Matsumae District Town
Furubira 古平町 188.41 3,265 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Furubira District Town
Haboro 羽幌町 472.49 7,338 Rumoi Subprefecture Tomamae District Town
Hamanaka 浜中町 427.68 6,120 Kushiro Subprefecture Akkeshi District Town
Hamatonbetsu 浜頓別町 401.56 3,841 Sōya Subprefecture Esashi District Town
Hidaka 日高町 992.67 12,596 Hidaka Subprefecture Saru District Town
Higashikagura 東神楽町 68.64 10,385 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Higashikawa 東川町 247.06 8,092 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Hiroo 広尾町 596.14 7,182 Tokachi Subprefecture Hiroo District Town
Hokuryū 北竜町 158.82 1,965 Sorachi Subprefecture Uryū District Town
Honbetsu 本別町 391.99 7,441 Tokachi Subprefecture Nakagawa District Town
Horokanai 幌加内町 767.03 1,571 Kamikawa Subprefecture Uryū District Town
Horonobe 幌延町 574.27 2,415 Sōya Subprefecture Teshio District Town
Ikeda 池田町 371.91 6,933 Tokachi Subprefecture Nakagawa District Town
Imakane 今金町 568.14 5,575 Hiyama Subprefecture Setana District Town
Iwanai 岩内町 70.64 13,210 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Iwanai District Town
Kamifurano 上富良野町 237.18 11,055 Kamikawa Subprefecture Sorachi District Town
Kamikawa 上川町 1,049.24 3,706 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Kaminokuni 上ノ国町 547.58 5,161 Hiyama Subprefecture Hiyama District Town
Kamishihoro 上士幌町 700.87 4,908 Tokachi Subprefecture Katō District Town
Kamisunagawa 上砂川町 39.91 3,278 Sorachi Subprefecture Sorachi District Town
Kamoenai 神恵内村 147.71 904 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Furuu District Village
Kenbuchi 剣淵町 131.2 3,293 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Kikonai 木古内町 221.88 4,448 Oshima Subprefecture Kamiiso District Town
Kimobetsu 喜茂別町 189.51 2,286 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Abuta District Town
Kiyosato 清里町 402.73 4,222 Okhotsk Subprefecture Shari District Town
Koshimizu 小清水町 287.04 5,029 Okhotsk Subprefecture Shari District Town
Kunneppu 訓子府町 190.89 5,227 Okhotsk Subprefecture Tokoro District Town
Kuriyama 栗山町 203.84 12,365 Sorachi Subprefecture Yūbari District Town
Kuromatsunai 黒松内町 345.65 2,739 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Suttsu District Town
Kushiro 釧路町 252.57 19,941 Kushiro Subprefecture Kushiro District Town
Kutchan 倶知安町 261.24 15,573 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Abuta District Town
Kyōgoku 京極町 231.61 3,144 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Abuta District Town
Kyōwa 共和町 304.96 6,136 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Iwanai District Town
Makkari 真狩村 114.43 2,081 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Abuta District Village
Makubetsu 幕別町 340.46 26,610 Tokachi Subprefecture Nakagawa District Town
Mashike 増毛町 369.64 4,634 Rumoi Subprefecture Mashike District Town
Matsumae 松前町 293.11 7,843 Oshima Subprefecture Matsumae District Town
Memuro 芽室町 513.91 18,806 Tokachi Subprefecture Kasai District Town
Minamifurano 南富良野町 665.52 2,611 Kamikawa Subprefecture Sorachi District Town
Mori 森町 378.27 16,299 Oshima Subprefecture Kayabe District Town
Moseushi 妹背牛町 48.55 3,134 Sorachi Subprefecture Uryū District Town
Mukawa むかわ町 166.43 8,527 Iburi Subprefecture Yūfutsu District Town
Naganuma 長沼町 168.36 11,262 Sorachi Subprefecture Yūbari District Town
Naie 奈井江町 88.05 5,664 Sorachi Subprefecture Sorachi District Town
Nakafurano 中富良野町 108.7 5,086 Kamikawa Subprefecture Sorachi District Town
Nakagawa 中川町 594.87 1,585 Kamikawa Subprefecture Nakagawa District Town
Nakasatsunai 中札内村 292.69 3,980 Tokachi Subprefecture Kasai District Village
Nakashibetsu 中標津町 684.98 24,014 Nemuro Subprefecture Shibetsu District Town
Nakatonbetsu 中頓別町 398.55 1,776 Sōya Subprefecture Esashi District Town
Nanae 七飯町 216.61 28,514 Oshima Subprefecture Kameda District Town
Nanporo 南幌町 81.49 7,816 Sorachi Subprefecture Sorachi District Town
Niikappu 新冠町 585.88 5,696 Hidaka Subprefecture Niikappu District Town
Niki 仁木町 167.93 3,874 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Yoichi District Town
Niseko ニセコ町 197.13 4,938 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Abuta District Town
Nishiokoppe 西興部村 308.12 1,120 Okhotsk Subprefecture Monbetsu District Village
Numata 沼田町 283.21 3,207 Sorachi Subprefecture Uryū District Town
Obira 小平町 627.29 3,277 Rumoi Subprefecture Rumoi District Town
Oketo 置戸町 527.54 3,042 Okhotsk Subprefecture Tokoro District Town
Okoppe 興部町 362.41 3,963 Okhotsk Subprefecture Monbetsu District Town
Okushiri 奥尻町 142.98 2,812 Hiyama Subprefecture Okushiri District Town
Ōmu 雄武町 637.03 4,596 Okhotsk Subprefecture Monbetsu District Town
Oshamambe 長万部町 310.75 5,694 Oshima Subprefecture Yamakoshi District Town
Otobe 乙部町 162.55 3,925 Hiyama Subprefecture Nishi District Town
Otoineppu 音威子府村 275.64 831 Kamikawa Subprefecture Nakagawa District Village
Otofuke 音更町 466.09 44,235 Tokachi Subprefecture Katō District Town
Ōzora 大空町 343.62 7,430 Okhotsk Subprefecture Abashiri District Town
Pippu 比布町 87.29 3,845 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Rankoshi 蘭越町 449.68 4,893 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Isoya District Town
Rausu 羅臼町 397.88 5,395 Nemuro Subprefecture Menashi District Town
Rebun 礼文町 81.33 2,651 Sōya Subprefecture Rebun District Town
Rikubetsu 陸別町 608.81 2,528 Tokachi Subprefecture Ashoro District Town
Rishiri 利尻町 76.49 2,169 Sōya Subprefecture Rishiri District Town
Rishirifuji 利尻富士町 105.69 2,665 Sōya Subprefecture Rishiri District Town
Rubetsu[29] 留別村 1,442.82 2,814 Nemuro Subprefecture Etorofu District Village
Rusutsu 留寿都村 119.92 1,940 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Abuta District Village
Ruyobetsu[29] 留夜別村 960.27 3,401 Nemuro Subprefecture Kunashiri District Village
Samani 様似町 364.33 4,482 Hidaka Subprefecture Samani District Town
Sarabetsu 更別村 176.45 3,275 Tokachi Subprefecture Kasai District Village
Saroma 佐呂間町 404.99 5,617 Okhotsk Subprefecture Tokoro District Town
Sarufutsu 猿払村 590 2,884 Sōya Subprefecture Sōya District Village
Setana せたな町 638.67 8,501 Hiyama Subprefecture Kudō District Town
Shakotan 積丹町 238.2 2,215 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Shakotan District Town
Shana[29] 紗那村 973.3 1,426 Nemuro Subprefecture Shana District Village
Shari 斜里町 736.97 11,897 Okhotsk Subprefecture Shari District Town
Shibecha 標茶町 1,099.41 7,862 Kushiro Subprefecture Kawakami District Town
Shibetoro[29] 蘂取村 760.5 881 Nemuro Subprefecture Shibetoro District Village
Shibetsu 標津町 624.49 5,374 Nemuro Subprefecture Shibetsu District Town
Shihoro 士幌町 259.13 6,234 Tokachi Subprefecture Katō District Town
Shikabe 鹿部町 110.61 3,920 Oshima Subprefecture Kayabe District Town
Shikaoi 鹿追町 399.69 5,570 Tokachi Subprefecture Katō District Town
Shikotan[29] 色丹村 253.33 1,499 Nemuro Subprefecture Shikotan District Village
Shimamaki 島牧村 437.26 1,560 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Shimamaki District Village
Shimizu 清水町 402.18 9,784 Tokachi Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Shimokawa 下川町 644.2 3,836 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Shimukappu 占冠村 571.31 1,251 Kamikawa Subprefecture Yūfutsu District Village
Shinhidaka 新ひだか町 1,147.75 23,516 Hidaka Subprefecture Hidaka District Town
Shinshinotsu 新篠津村 78.24 3,235 Ishikari Subprefecture Ishikari District Village
Shintoku 新得町 1,063.79 6,285 Tokachi Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Shintotsukawa 新十津川町 495.62 6,787 Sorachi Subprefecture Kabato District Town
Shiranuka 白糠町 773.74 7,972 Kushiro Subprefecture Shiranuka District Town
Shiraoi 白老町 425.75 17,759 Iburi Subprefecture Shiraoi District Town
Shiriuchi 知内町 196.67 4,620 Oshima Subprefecture Kamiiso District Town
Shosanbetsu 初山別村 280.04 1,249 Rumoi Subprefecture Tomamae District Village
Sōbetsu 壮瞥町 205.04 2,665 Iburi Subprefecture Usu District Town
Suttsu 寿都町 95.36 3,113 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Suttsu District Town
Taiki 大樹町 816.38 5,742 Tokachi Subprefecture Hiroo District Town
Takasu 鷹栖町 139.44 6,780 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Takinoue 滝上町 786.89 2,757 Okhotsk Subprefecture Monbetsu District Town
Teshikaga 弟子屈町 774.53 7,631 Kushiro Subprefecture Kawakami District Town
Teshio 天塩町 353.31 3,241 Rumoi Subprefecture Teshio District Town
Tōbetsu 当別町 422.71 16,694 Ishikari Subprefecture Ishikari District Town
Tōma 当麻町 204.95 6,662 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Tomamae 苫前町 454.5 3,261 Rumoi Subprefecture Tomamae District Town
Tomari 泊村 82.35 1,750 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Furuu District Village
Tomari[29] 泊村 538.56 5,595 Nemuro Subprefecture Kunashiri District Village
Tōyako 洞爺湖町 180.54 9,231 Iburi Subprefecture Abuta District Town
Toyokoro 豊頃町 536.52 3,262 Tokachi Subprefecture Nakagawa District Town
Toyotomi 豊富町 520.69 4,054 Sōya Subprefecture Teshio District Town
Toyoura 豊浦町 233.54 4,205 Iburi Subprefecture Abuta District Town
Tsubetsu 津別町 716.6 5,011 Okhotsk Subprefecture Abashiri District Town
Tsukigata 月形町 151.05 3,429 Sorachi Subprefecture Kabato District Town
Tsurui 鶴居村 571.84 2,516 Kushiro Subprefecture Akan District Village
Urahoro 浦幌町 729.64 5,023 Tokachi Subprefecture Tokachi District Town
Urakawa 浦河町 694.24 12,800 Hidaka Subprefecture Urakawa District Town
Urausu 浦臼町 101.08 1,983 Sorachi Subprefecture Kabato District Town
Uryū 雨竜町 190.91 2,546 Sorachi Subprefecture Uryū District Town
Wassamu 和寒町 224.83 3,553 Kamikawa Subprefecture Kamikawa District Town
Yakumo 八雲町 955.98 17,299 Oshima Subprefecture Futami District Town
Yoichi 余市町 140.6 19,698 Shiribeshi Subprefecture Yoichi District Town
Yūbetsu 湧別町 505.74 8,474 Okhotsk Subprefecture Monbetsu District Town
Yuni 由仁町 133.86 5,426 Sorachi Subprefecture Yūbari District Town


Satellite image of Hokkaido in winter

As Japan's coldest region, Hokkaido has relatively cool summers and icy/snowy winters. Most of the island falls in the humid continental climate zone with Köppen climate classification Dfb (hemiboreal) in most areas but Dfa (hot summer humid continental) in some inland lowlands. 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), in both cases depending on elevation and distance from the ocean, though temperatures on the western side of the island tend to be a little warmer than on the eastern. The highest temperature ever recorded is 39.5 °C (103.1 °F) on 26 May 2019.[30]

The northern portion of Hokkaido falls into the taiga biome[31] with significant snowfall. Snowfall varies widely from as much as 11 metres (400 in) on the mountains adjacent to the Sea of Japan down to around 1.8 metres (71 in) on the Pacific coast. The island tends to have isolated snowstorms that develop long-lasting snowbanks. Total precipitation varies from 1,600 millimetres (63 in) on the mountains of the Sea of Japan coast to around 800 millimetres (31 in) (the lowest in Japan) on the Sea of Okhotsk coast and interior lowlands and up to around 1,100 millimetres (43 in) on the Pacific side. The generally high quality of powder snow and numerous mountains in Hokkaido make it a popular region for snow sports. The snowfall usually commences in earnest in November and ski resorts (such as those at Niseko, Furano, Teine 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. Ports on the open Pacific Ocean and Sea of Japan are generally ice-free year round, though most rivers freeze during the winter.

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.

Major cities and towns

Sapporo, Hokkaido's largest city.

Hokkaido's largest city is the capital, Sapporo, which is a designated city. The island has two core cities: Hakodate in the south and Asahikawa in the central region. Other important population centers include Rumoi, Iwamizawa, Kushiro, Obihiro, Kitami, Abashiri, Wakkanai, and Nemuro.


Large farm of Tokachi plain

Although there is some light industry (most notably paper milling and 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.[32]

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 beets, onions, pumpkins, corn, raw milk, and beef. Hokkaido also accounts for 22% of Japan's forests with a sizable timber industry. The prefecture is first in the nation in production of marine products and aquaculture.[32] The average farm size in Hokkaido is 26 hectares per farmer in 2013, which is almost 11 times bigger than the national average of 2.4 hectares.[33]

Farm Tomita in Nakafurano

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 and other Asian countries. During the winter, skiing and other winter sports bring other tourists, and increasingly international ones, to the island.[34]

Coal mining played an important role in the industrial development of Hokkaido, with the Ishikari coalfield. Cities such as Muroran were primarily developed to supply the rest of the archipelago with coal.[12]


Shin-Hakodate-Hokuto Station on the Hokkaido Shinkansen

Hokkaido's only land link to the rest of Japan is the Seikan Tunnel. Most travellers travel to the island 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 more than 40 widebody round trips on several airlines each day. One of the airlines, Air Do was named after Hokkaido.

Hokkaido can be reached by ferry from Sendai, Niigata and some other cities, with the ferries from Tokyo dealing only in cargo. The Hokkaido Shinkansen takes passengers from Tokyo to near Hakodate in slightly over four hours.[35] There is a fairly well-developed railway network, but many cities can only be accessed by road. The coal railways were constructed around Sapporo and Horonai during the late 19th century, as advised by American engineer Joseph Crawford.[12]

Hokkaido is home to one of Japan's 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.[36][37]


Hokkaido University Botanical Gardens
Hokkaido University Museum

The Hokkaido 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 University (former Sapporo Agricultural College)[38]
  • Hokkaido University of Education
  • Muroran Institute of Technology
  • Otaru University of Commerce
  • Obihiro University of Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine
  • Asahikawa Medical University
  • Kitami Institute of Technology

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


Hollow Dogū, the only National Treasure on the island (Hakodate Jōmon Culture Center)
  • Sapporo ramen, Jingisukan
  • Hokkaidō Heritage
  • Hokkaido Museum
  • Hokkaido Museum of Northern Peoples
  • Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art
  • Historical Village of Hokkaido
  • Hokkaido Archaeological Operations Center
  • Pacific Music Festival


Sapporo Dome in Sapporo.

The 1972 Winter Olympics were held in Sapporo.

The sports teams listed below are based in Hokkaido.

  • Hokkaido American Football Association
  • Consadole Sapporo (Association football)
  • Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
  • Levanga Hokkaido (basketball)
  • Japan Basketball League
  • Nippon Paper Cranes (Ice hockey)
  • Oji Eagles (Ice hockey)
  • Loco Solare (Curling)

Winter festivals

  • Sapporo Snow Festival
  • Asahikawa Ice Festival
  • Sōunkyō Ice Festival
  • Big Air – snowboarding freestyle competition
  • Shōwa-Shinzan International Yukigassen - competitive snowballing

International relations

Hokkaido has relationships with several provinces, states, and other entities worldwide.[39]

As of January 2014, 74 individual municipalities in Hokkaido have sister city agreements with 114 cities in 21 different countries worldwide.[46]



The current governor of Hokkaido is Harumi Takahashi. She won a fourth term in the gubernatorial election in 2015 with centre-right support. Her first election in 2003 in a close race against centre-left supported Yoshio Hachiro and seven other candidates ended a 20-year streak of victories by Socialist Party Takahiro Yokomichi and then his former vice governor Tatsuya Hori who beat Hideko Itō twice by large margins. Itō, a former Socialist Diet member, was supported by the Liberal Democratic Party against Hori in 1995 (at the time, Socialists and Liberal Democrats formed the ruling "grand" coalition on the national level); In 1999, Hori was supported by all major non-Communist parties and Itō ran without party support. Before 1983, the governorship had been held by Liberal Democrats Naohiro Dōgakinai and Kingo Machimura for 24 years. In the 1971 election when Machimura retired, the Socialist candidate Shōhei Tsukada lost to Dōgakinai by only 13,000 votes;[47] Tsukada was also supported by the Communist Party – the leftist cooperation in opposition to the US-Japanese security treaty had brought joint Socialist-Communist candidates to victory in many other prefectural and local elections in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1959, Machimura had defeated Yokomichi's father Setsuo in the race to succeed Hokkaido's first elected governor, Socialist Toshibumi Tanaka who retired after three terms. Tanaka had only won the governorship in 1947 in a run-off election against Democrat Eiji Arima because no candidate had received the necessary vote share to win in the first round as required by law at the time.


The Hokkaido Legislative Assembly has 100 members from 47 electoral districts. As of April 30, 2015, the LDP caucus holds a majority with 51 seats, the DPJ-led group has 26 members. Other groups are the Hokkaidō Yūshikai of New Party Daichi and independents with twelve seats, Kōmeitō with eight, and the Japanese Communist Party with four members.[48] General elections for the Hokkaido assembly are currently held together with gubernatorial elections in the unified local elections (last round: April 2015).

National representation

For the lower house of the National Diet, Hokkaido is divided into twelve single-member electoral districts. In the 2017 election, candidates from the governing coalition of Liberal Democrats and Kōmeitō won seven districts and the main opposition Constitutional Democrats five. For the proportional election segment, Hokkaido and Tokyo are the only two prefectures that form a regional "block" district of their own. The Hokkaido proportional representation block elects eight Representatives. In 2017, the Liberal Democratic Party received 28.8% of the proportional vote and won three seats, the Constitutional Democratic Party won three (26.4% of the vote), one seat each went to Kibō no Tō (12.3%) and Kōmeitō (11.0%). The Japanese Communist Party, who won a seat in 2014, lost their seat in 2017 while receiving 8.5% of the votes.

In the upper house of the National Diet, a major reapportionment in the 1990s halved the number of Councillors from Hokkaido per election from four to two. After the elections of 2010 and 2013, the Hokkaido electoral district – like most two-member districts for the upper house – is represented by two Liberal Democrats and two Democrats. In the 2016 upper house election, the district magnitude will be raised to three, Hokkaidō will then temporarily be represented by five members and six after the 2019 election.

See also

  • Former Hokkaidō Government Office
  • Hokkaido dialects
  • People from Hokkaido
  • Sankebetsu brown bear incident


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^[note 1] Source: English edition of Sightseeing in Hokkaido, Winter Festival and Events


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