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Hokkaido (hōkīˈdō), island (1990 pop. 5,643,515), c.30,130 sq mi (78,040 sq km), N Japan, separated from Honshu island by the Tsugaru Strait and from Sakhalin, Russia, by the Soya Strait. It is the second largest, northernmost, and most sparsely populated of the major islands of Japan. Once called Yezo, it received the name Hokkaido [region of the northern sea] in 1869. Its rugged interior with many volcanic peaks rises to 7,511 ft (2,289 m) in Asahi-dake and, like all of Japan, the island is subject to earthquakes. The Ishikari, second longest river of Japan, traverses W Hokkaido; its valley is an important urban and industrial region. Hokkaido has a humid continental climate and receives much snow. Forests, covering most of the island, are a source of lumber, pulp, and paper (milled in Hokkaido). Coal, iron, and manganese are mined; the Ishikari coal field produces a major part of Japan's supply. Although large areas of the island are unsuited to farming, agriculture is an important occupation. Hokkaido is one of the major fishing centers of the world. The island is the chief winter resort and sports area in Japan; the 1972 Winter Olympics were held there, at Sapporo. Hokkaido's scenic beauty is preserved in several national parks. The population is concentrated largely in the west and southwest. Sapporo, Hakodate, and Otaru are the chief cities. Kushiro is the main port for E Hokkaido.

The island was originally inhabited by Ainu, aborigines of uncertain ancestry. Until 1800 the Ainu outnumbered the Japanese, who had begun (16th cent.) to settle the southwest peninsula; there are now c.16,000 Ainu in Hokkaido. With the Meiji restoration (1868) Japan began the first serious effort to people the island as a means of strengthening the northern frontier. Under a government-sponsored plan to develop the island, Horace Capron, an American agriculturalist, introduced (1872–76) scientific methods of farming. In 1885, Hokkaido was made an administrative unit and was granted a central government. The growth of the railroads helped speed settlement, but despite subsidies, the severe winters discouraged emigration from S Japan. Parts of the island, particularly in the north, are still relatively underpopulated. The completion of the Seikan Tunnel (1988), which carries a rail line connecting Hokkaido and Honshu, has further decreased the isolation of Japan's northernmost island.

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(also called Yesso, Ezo, and Matsumae until 1868), the northernmost island of Japan; the second largest island in Japan after Honshu. Area, 77,700 sq km. Population 5.4 million (1977). Hokkaido’s terrain is characterized by mountains that have medium and low elevations. Several mountain ranges, including the Hidaka Sammyaku and Taesetsu-zan, extend outward from the center of the island, and elevations reach 2,290 m (Asahi-dake). Hokkaido has eight active volcanoes, including Usu-dake. Earthquakes are common. The Yubari (Ishikari) field is an important source of coal; iron ore is mined at Kutchan, and sulfur, in the Taesetsu-zan.

The climate of Hokkaido is moderate, oceanic, and monsoon-al. The average monthly temperature ranges from – 11°C to 3°C in January and from 17°C to 21°C in July. Precipitation on most of the island ranges from 800 mm to 1,500 mm annually; much of it falls as snow. The island’s main rivers—the Ishikari, Teshio, and Tokachi—provide hydroelectric power and are also used for floating timber. Lakes include the lagoon Saroma and the crater lakes Kutcharo, Shikotsu, and Toya. Approximately 60 percent of Hokkaido’s territory is forested; spruce and fir predominate in the north, and broad-leaved trees in the southwest. Densely populated low-lying plains, such as Ishikari, are found along the coast, and meadows and swamps occur in the lowlands.

The major cities on Hokkaido are Sapporo and Hakodate. The island forms a separate agricultural and industrial economic region of Japan. Hokkaido is the country’s primary supplier of timber and timber products.


Armand, D. L. Ostrov Khokkaido. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


the second largest and northernmost of the four main islands of Japan, separated from Honshu by the Tsugaru Strait and from the island of Sakhalin, Russia, by La Pérouse Strait: constitutes an autonomous administrative division. Capital: Sapporo. Pop.: 5 670 000 (2002 est.). Area: 78 508 sq. km (30 312 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Comparative reproductive biology of Yezo scallop, Patinopecten yessoensis, under two different culture systems on the east coast of Korea.
There are an estimated 24,000 Ainu in Japan, most of them in Hokkaido, formerly called Yezo (Ainu) island.