Hokkaido’s Tale of 1.2 Million Years, Hokkaido Museum

It is sometimes said that the history of Hokkaido is brief. Certainly, it has only been 150 years since settlement and development first brought a large population to Hokkaido. However, looking further into the past, we will find that unlike the simple picture painted in many Japanese history textbooks, this land is built upon layers of unique history. One such example is the provision of Ainu-supplied seat otter pelts to the Tokugawa shogunate. Let us leaf through the long, long tale of Hokkaido’s 1.2 million years of history.

On to the Age of Humanity
Hokkaido, Land of Elephants
The Naumann’s elephant, a southern elephant which preferred a forest habitat, crossed over to Hokkaido from Honshu about 120,000 years ago. On the other hand, the mammoth was a northern elephant which preferred a grassland habitat, and reached Hokkaido from the northeastern Asian continent via Sakhalin (Karafuto), living here between about 45,000 years to 20,000 years ago. These two species of elephant have come to represent the waves of migratory animals which entered Hokkaido from the north and south, roaming the island in search of ideal habitats as the Earth’s climate cooled and warmed again and again.

The foundation of Hokkaido’s terrain was formed through major crustal deformation caused by seismic and volcanic activity. And, the natural environment which encompasses Hokkaido’s various animal and plant life underwent great changes during the repeated warming and cooling cycles of the Quaternary period, the most recent period of the Earth’s formation.

For example, near Kitahiroshima — a city located south of Sapporo — fossils have been discovered which indicate these climate changes. Fossils of large cold-water marine mammals such as Steller’s sea cow have been discovered in a geological formations dating to approximately 1.2 million years ago, indicating that Hokkaido had a cold climate at that time. On the other hand, fossils of warm-water marine shellfsh have been found in geological layers dating to approximately 210,000 years ago, indicating a warm climate.

Furthermore, during these varying climate cycles, land bridges occasionally formed, connecting Hokkaido to Honshu and the Asian continent. Animals such as mammoths and bison entered Hokkaido from Sakhalin (Karafuto), which was connected to the northeast Asian continent. From the south, animals such as Naumann’s elephant and Irish elk entered Hokkaido via a land bridge to Honshu.

It is thought that humans entered Hokkaido in pursuit of these animals somewhat over 30,000 years ago. The humans of this era primarily used stone tools, and are classifed as a Paleolithic culture. Eventually, the Jomon culture – characterized by its use of earthenware – emerged somewhat over 10,000 years ago. Around the time this culture began, the climate began to warm, marking the end of the Ice age. The people of the Jomon culture used technologies such as earthenwares, ground stone axes, and bows as they subsisted on hunting, fshing, and gathering. The Jomon eventually formed settlements and during the latter half of this cultural period, its people created stone circles and mass burial sites such as earthwork burial circles. They also produced items associated with prayer and festivals, such as clay fgurines and stone rods. This culture lasted about 10,000 years, until metal tools came into use somewhat over 2,000 years ago. This is how human history began in Hokkaido.

Traces of Great Tsunamis
Encircled by three tectonic plates — the Pacifc Plate, Eurasian Plate, and North American Plate — Hokkaido often experiences earthquakes and tsunamis. This display shows geographical layers of the coastal wetlands of the Tokachi area, cut away in cross-section to reveal strata from approximately 3,500 years ago to present day. The striped patterns visible in these geographic layers are alternating deposits of sand from tsunamis and volcanic ash. Dating reveals that major tsunamis have occurred about once every 400 years, on average. This means that the next such tsunami could occur in the near future.

The Prayers of the Jomon People
Warm climates which had lasted until the latter to fnal periods of the Jomon culture (4,000 to 2,300 years ago) gradually became colder. The changing climate had major efects upon the natural environment and human lifestyles. People began to construct stone circles of diameters exceeding 30 meters, and mass burial sites such as earthwork burial circles. They also fashioned a variety of ornaments, such as clay fgurines and stone rods. It is thought that the people of the Jomon culture used such items for purposes including prayer and festivals.

Emergence of Hokkaido’s Original Cultures
The Mystery of the Petroglyphs
In 1886, rock engravings resembling writing and pictures (Petroglyphs) were discovered in Temiya Cave, Otaru. At the time, these petroglyphs were thought to be writing, but in 1950, when some of Japan’s most signifcant petroglyphs were discovered in Fugoppe Cave, Yoichi, it was realized that they were not writing, but pictures. It is thought that the Fugoppe Cave petroglyphs were created in the 1st through 4th centuries by the Zoku-Jomon culture. However, these petroglyphs share no commonalities with their counterparts on the Eurasian continent. It remains a mystery what became of the culture that engraved these images.

Somewhat over 2,000 years ago, the Jomon culture in Hokkaido came to an end, giving rise to unique cultures such as the Zoku-Jomon culture and the Satsumon culture.

The Zoku-Jomon culture spanned the period from somewhat over 2,000 years ago to approximately the 7th century. Around the time this culture began, rice cultivation and metal tools had entered western Japan from continental Asia via the Korean Peninsula, and the Yayoi culture had spread up to Tohoku – the northeastern reaches of Honshu. However, rice cultivation did not cross the Tsugaru Strait to Hokkaido during this timeframe. But, small amounts of iron tools did reach Hokkaido, leading to advancements in techniques such as hunting, fshing, and gathering. The Zoku-Jomon people of Hokkaido would eventually establish active exchange from Hokkaido to Honshu and Sakhalin (Karafuto).

The Satsumon culture developed around the 7th to 8th centuries, under infuences of the cultures from Honshu. The cord-marked earthenware and stone tools which had been used by their predecessors were replaced by earthenwares resembling Haji earthenware and iron implements. The people of the Satsumon culture established settlements near estuaries, and in addition to hunting and fshing, they also cultivated grains such as foxtail millet and Japanese millet. This culture continued until about the 12th century. During this period, trade with Honshu fourished, bringing many iron tools to Hokkaido, and ways of life began to change

In addition to these cultures, as early as the 5th century, people with a culture greatly diferent from any of Hokkaido’s previous cultures arrived from Sakhalin (Karafuto). These people frst lived along Hokkaido’s Okhotsk sea coast, and would eventually spread as far as the Kuril Islands. Strongly infuenced by northeast continental Asian cultures, this culture was known as the Okhotsk culture, and continued until about the 9th century. These people primarily subsisted on fshing and hunting marine mammals such as whales and seals. Through trade with the northeast Asian continent and Honshu, they became known as the “people of the sea”.

The Zoku-Jomon culture and Satsumon cultures were strongly connected to Honshu, and the Okhotsk culture was strongly connected to Sakhalin (Karafuto) and the northeast Asian continent. In quite a diferent manner from Honshu, highly regional cultures developed in Hokkaido under cultural infuences from both north and south.

The Prayers of the Okhotsk People
The people of the Okhotsk culture held beliefs towards animals such as bears, whales, seals, and birds. At archaeological sites such as the Moyoro Shell Mound in Abashiri City and the Sakaeura Daini Site in Tokoro, Kitami City, discoveries have included a mound of cranial bones from animals such as bears and deer found within a dwelling, and another mound of bones from marine creatures and birds. Images engraved on clay items, tusks, and bones found at these sites indicate that the bear was of special signifcance to these people

Expansion of Exchange and Trade
Decorative items such as ornamental sashes and nephrite gems have been found at Okhotsk culture archaeological sites. These are identical to items found at midstream and downstream locations along the Amur (Heilong) River. Such fnds are evidence that the Okhotsk culture had deep connections with regions such as Sakhalin (Karafuto) and the northeast Asian continent. On the other hand, the Satsumon culture was deeply connected to Honshu. Through trade, the Satsumon people obtained a variety of iron implements, and brought Sue and Haji ware to all regions of Hokkaido. In this period, Hokkaido was the center of two major trade routes — one to the north, and one to the south.

The Age of Ezochi
Ezochi Trade Goods Collection
The Ainu obtained resources through hunting, fshing, and gathering, and manufactured them into trade goods such as the items displayed here: large Steller sea lion and bear pelts, beautiful sea otter pelts, eagle feathers and Japanese cranes, cords made from tree bark, and dried seafood including salmon, sea cucumber, and abalone. These goods were traded to the Wajin (majority Japanese; dominant ethnic group of Honshu), in exchange for goods such as rice, sake, tobacco, iron goods, lacquerware, and cotton. Hokkaido was known as “Ezochi” in the period from the 13th century to early 19th century. During this time, as the Wajin tightened their control, the Ainu people gradually lost their freedom over these resources and trade activities.

Towards the end of the Satsumon culture, the Wajin people of Honshu called the residents of Hokkaido “Ezo”. These people are ancestral to the Ainu people.

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From the 13th century onwards, ways of life in Hokkaido underwent great changes. For example, pit dwellings were replaced by above-ground dwellings, chashi (hill forts of the Ainu) were constructed, large quantities of iron goods came into use, and rituals known in Ainu as iomante were carried out to return bears to the Kamuy world. Academically speaking, the “Ainu culture” refers to the emergence of a culture distinct from the previous Satsumon culture, in light of these lifestyle changes. The “Ainu culture” generally spoken of today gradually changed and took shape from the 13th century to the early 19th century, as the Ainu carried out trade with the people of Sakhalin (Karafuto).

In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Sea of Japan was bustling with shipping routes, bringing ceramics and copper coins from China to Hokkaido. Great numbers of Wajin people migrated to southern Hokkaido, building stronghold dwellings known as tate. Over time, this infux increasingly threatened the Ainu way of life, leading to violence between the two peoples which lasted from the mid 15th century to the mid 16th century. Over this time, the Wajin power was led by the Kakizaki clan.

In 1599, the Kakizaki clan changed its name to Matsumae, and in 1604 they were granted rights to trade with the Ainu people by the Tokugawa shogunate. Eventually, in the 1630s, the akinaiba-chigyo-sei (trade-fef system) was established, and new trade practices began to exploit the Ainu people. Dissatisfed with the unfair trade, a group of Ainu people led by Shakushain took up war against the Matsumae clan in 1669.

Shakushain and his followers were defeated, further strengthening the grip of the Matsumae clan. In the 18th century, the basho-ukeoi-sei (subcontracted trading post system) took efect throughout Ezochi, and the Ainu people became laborers at fsheries and other businesses operated by Wajin merchants. Furthermore, in the late 18th century, as foreign ships were spotted on the seas around Ezochi, the Matsumae clan and the Tokugawa shogunate further tightened their control, causing rapid changes to the Ainu people’s way of life.

The Ainu and the Matsumae Clan
In 1604, the Matsumae clan received a black-seal order from Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa, which would drastically change the structure of trade between the Ainu and the Wajin. Until then, Ainu people had freely visited Honshu for purposes of trade, but now all trade would be carried out with the Matsumae clan. From around 1630, domainal vassals of the Matsumae clan began to visit Ainu settlements, imposing trade which took advantage of the Ainu. And, Wajin began to food into Hokkaido in search of gold dust. These Wajin settlers soon began to interfere with Ainu industry and lifestyle.

Contact with Russia and its Efects upon the Ainu
In 1789, the Ainu of Menashi-Kunashir, no longer able to contain their anger towards dishonest trade carried out by the Matsumae clan and Wajin merchants, made an attack which killed 71 Wajin. Ainu chieftains persuaded the people responsible to turn themselves in to the Matsumae clan, and 37 Ainu tied to the killings were executed. Meanwhile, Russia advanced into the Kuril (Chishima) Islands, and in 1792, a Russian ship visited Hokkaido. These happenings were of great concern to the Edo government, which decided to take direct control over Ezochi, further tightening the grip of the Wajin domination over the Ainu people.

From Ezochi to Hokkaido
Hokkaido Development Commission Main Sapporo Ofce
In order to proceed with full-scale settlement and development of Hokkaido, in 1869, the new Meiji government established the “Kaitakushi”, now commonly called the Hokkaido Development Commission. As it strove to settle and develop Hokkaido — a land with vastly diferent climate and natural environment than Honshu and other parts of Japan — the Kaitakushi eagerly adopted technologies and lifestyle culture from western countries such as the United States of America. The western-style architecture of the Kaitakushi Sapporo Main Ofce came to symbolize the beginning of a new style of settlement and development in Hokkaido.

Under its policy of national seclusion, the Tokugawa shogunate restricted trade partners to Holland and China, and limited trade ports to only Nagasaki. However, around the middle of the 19th century, countries such as the United States of America and Russia began to request rights to trade freely, and the Tokugawa shogunate opened several more ports. Hakodate was selected to become one of these international trade ports. The Tokugawa shogunate placed magistrates in Hakodate, and took direct control of Hakodate, the surrounding lands, and all of Ezochi from the Matsumae clan as it began eforts to settle and develop Ezochi.

In 1867, Shogun Yoshinobu Tokugawa restored political power to the Emperor of Japan, marking the end of the Edo period. The new Meiji government began settlement and development of Hokkaido in earnest, installing the “Kaitakushi” (now commonly called “the Hokkaido Development Commission”) in July 1869, and renaming Ezochi to Hokkaido in August. The reasons behind settlement and development of Hokkaido were concern over unresolved border disputes with Russia, and desire to create prosperity in Japan by developing diverse industries.

From the era of the Kaitakushi onward to the Hokkaido Prefectural Government, many residents of Honshu and throughout Japan started new lives in Hokkaido under government settlement and development policies. This settlement occurred on scales of all sizes, from individual people to entire communities. Every settler had their own reason to move to Hokkaido, such as escape from poverty or disaster-stricken areas, or pursuit of dreams of wealth in a new land. However, even settlers who were granted land would face many taxing challenges, such as cutting down dense forests before they could begin to plow felds.

As government settlement and development policies progressed, the Ainu faced many hardships as their traditional way of life was forbidden as “barbaric”. Even activities that the Ainu had previously been relatively free to perform — such as deer hunting and salmon fshing — were banned. Some Ainu were forced out of their homes. In response to this situation, the government issued the Hokkaido Former Natives Protection Act in 1899. However, out of convenience for the Wajin, this act forced Wajin ways of life upon the Ainu, and thus could not truly resolve the hardships they faced.

The Opening of Hakodate Port and the Ainu People
Shortly before Hakodate Port was opened, the Treaty of Peace and Amity between Japan and Russia was concluded in February 1855. This treaty established national borders of the Kuril Islands, but failed to clarify ownership of Sakhalin (Karafuto). The Tokugawa shogunate became increasingly alarmed over Russia’s advance into Sakhalin (Karafuto), and decided solidify Ezochi’s defenses by colonizing the island. The Tokugawa shogunate earnestly developed a variety of industries, and encouraged Wajin settlers to settle Ezochi’s lands. Meanwhile, the Tokugawa shogunate also accelerated implementation of policies to adapt Hokkaido’s Ainu population to ft into the Japanese culture, for example by regulating hairstyles and names to ft Wajin standards.

Hokkaido’s New Residents – the Tonden-hei (Farmer-soldiers)
Hokkaido’s New Residents: the Tonden-hei (Farmer-soldiers) While settling and developing Hokkaido, the Meiji government placed settlements of tonden-hei (farmer-soldiers) to areas deemed important. Along with their role as agricultural pioneers, the tonden-hei also served as soldiers to defend Hokkaido. The frst tonden-hei took up settlements in Kotoni (now part of Sapporo City) in 1875. Later, the tonden-hei spread through inland Hokkaido, including the area which is now Asahikawa City. Until the policy was discontinued in 1904, 7,337 people from throughout Japan settled Hokkaido as tonden-hei. Including their family members, the total population of these settlements was about 40,000

Hokkaido Museum
Hokkaido Museum, aka Mori no Charenga, is a museum introducing the nature, history and culture of Hokkaido.Hokkaido Museum opened in Sapporo, Hokkaidō, Japan in 2015. Located within Nopporo Shinrin Kōen Prefectural Natural Park.

Most of the permanent exhibitions are history-related, including archeology, and folklore-related. Educational activities are being conducted in both the humanities and natural history fields.

The museum integrates and replaces the Historical Museum of Hokkaido, which opened in 1971, and the Hokkaido Ainu Culture Research Centre.

It also collects and preserves materials that represent a precious treasure of the people of Hokkaido, and conducts exhibitions, educational activities and events.