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May 26, 2012

From Ainu to Colonist - The Historical Museum of Hokkaido (Museums)

Established in 1971 to celebrate the centenary of the opening of Hokkaido, the Historical Museum of Hokkaido is an imposing, square pile of red brick sitting in natural surroundings close to the Nopporo Forest Park. Not surprisingly, Hokkaido’s modern history is more dense than its ancient one. The elaborate permanent exhibition (which is unchanging) is divided into 8 themes, ranging chronologically from the formation of the island to a glimpse of the future of Hokkaido. In addition, the museum hosts several special exhibitions each year.


Theme One treats the formation of the island, the Neolithic age and Jomon culture (there is a fine clay mask with the features of an adult man, found near Chitose), which lasted especially long in Hokkaido as the Yayoi culture with its rice cultivation and bronze artifacts did not reach this far north (one speaks therefore of a continuation of the Jomon period (Epi-Jomon), which lasted until about 800 CE). Stone tools and Jomon vessels are supplemented by models and dioramas.

Theme Two follows Ainu Culture from its 7th c. roots to the 19th c. Those roots were the Satsumon and Okhotsk cultures. The interior of a typical dwelling has been reconstructed and Edo-period scrolls depicting Ainu festivals are also on view.

Theme Three, ‘the Age of Ezo’ (the old name for the island), depicts the life of the early Japanese settlers on Hokkaido. The first Japanese arrived in the 12th c. to trade with the Ainu. In exchange for animal hides and marine products, they sold such things as iron tools and rice. At the end of the 16th c. Lord Kakizaki organized the first Japanese community in Matsumae and he received the monopoly on the Ainu trade. An the end of the 18th c., when foreign ships started making frequent incursions into the waters around Hokkaido, the island was placed under direct control of the shogun. In 1854, finally, Hakodate became one of the ports opened to foreign trade following the Kanagawa Treaty.

Theme Four is called ‘The Early Modern Era’ and deals with Hokkaido’s history from 1869 to 1886, when the island was intensively and quickly colonized by the Japanese (partly out of fear for a Russian push south). To this purpose, the Kaitakushi or Colonization Office was set up in 1869; it functioned until 1882. Large investments were made in Hokkaido to develop it as a model ‘progressive’ area and many foreign advisers were attracted to help. Sapporo was transformed from a piece of forest into a modern capital, roads and railroads were built, and experimental farms were set up to handle Western style crops and equipment. As it was difficult to resettle ordinary farmers, former samurai were relocated to Hokkaido and also a system of farmer-soldiers (Tondenhei) was introduced. Coal mines were opened and factories built, some producing Western-style products as milk and beer. At the same time, the lands of the Ainu were taken away and their culture eroded. On display are such items as farming implements, the first bottles of beer and uniforms of the Tondenhei farmer-soldiers.

For Theme Five ‘Progression of Colonization’ (the period from 1886 to 1918) we move to the second floor. In 1886 the Hokkaido Prefectural Government was set up and a long-term development plan created. Land surveys were undertaken, and farming villages established to increase the number of immigrants from the rest of Japan. There is a diorama of herring fishing (important in the 1890s, but now non-existent due to over-fishing) and a model of a potato starch manufacturing plant.

Theme Six, the period 1918-1945, is called ‘From recession to World War’ and shows the boom and bust in the years between the two world wars. Theme Seven is dedicated to the Postwar Period, 1945-1960. Characteristic for the meager years after the war is an iron pot on display, which was recycled from a soldier’s helmet. Since 1952, with a new development plan from the central government, the development of Hokkaido’s resources and its integration into the national economy progressed swiftly. Theme Eight, finally, takes a peek at tomorrow’s Hokkaido on a large display screen
011-898-0456

53-2, Konopporo, Atsubetsu-cho, Atsubetsu-ku, Sapporo, Hokkaido 004-0006

9:30-16:30; CL Mon, NY, NH (except 5/3-5/5, 9/15, 9/23, 11/3)

From JR Sapporo Station take the JR Chitose Line to Shin Sapporo Station or the Tozai Subway Line to Shin Sapporo terminal. Then take a JR Bus (Kaitaku-no-Mura Line) at platform 10 and get off at Kinenkan-iriguchi