The enchanting town of Yakumo in South Hokkaido has sea line with both Uchiura Bay facing the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan towards mainland Asian continent. It is actually the only town in Japan to do so. One must pass through Yakumo to get from South Hokkaido’s main city Hakodate towards the northern parts of Hokkaido, including Sapporo. Quite obviously, the first Japanese immigrants used also this road when they arrived from Japan’s main island Honshu. At the time it was the indigenous Ainu people who lived here and of course, the island was not yet called Hokkaido.
The fact that this is where Japanese started their colonialism – or pioneering from the Japanese point of view – means that there are more traditional Japanese style buildings and historic sights in South Hokkaido compared to the rest of the island. For a long time the south was the island’s economical capital where the big guys lived. And as you can imagine, the poor pioneering farmers who made their way to the north did not tend to build massive or artistic buildings that would stand the test of time like the ones you can see in locations such as Kyoto.
The intriguing past of South Hokkaido: the last Samurai
South Hokkaido really has its charms. This is an excellent location for those who wish to delve into the history of Japan from another angle. South Hokkaido had a critical role in the history of Japan’s opening to foreign trade and the sudden “modernization” of Japan in the wake of the Meiji Restoration (1868).
Meiji Restoration refers to the restoration of the imperial rule that ended the era of the samurai. Edo period, the time period before the restoration was characterized by the rule of the feudal military government, the Tokugawa Shogunate.
During the last years of the Edo Period some of the Shogunate rebels such as Hijikata Toshizo fleeted north, all the way to the southernmost parts of the island of Hokkaido. For a brief time, they even established a rebellious state, the Ezo Republic (Ezo referring to “the land of barbarians” that Hokkaido was in the eyes of Japanese) in Hokkaido!
The destiny of Japan was decided in the Battle of Hakodate in Hokkaido, and with the timing of Meiji Restoration the island was officially declared part of Japan. Some of the now unemployed samurai of the Tokugawa government turned a new page on their lives and started to live in the island of Hokkaido as pioneering farmers. The Tokugawa clan funded farming programs in the current Yakumo town area and even today you can find places like the relocated Tokugawa Farm Office in the town.
Interested in Hakodate? You might enjoy reading: Hakodate: the southern capital of Hokkaido
A rice farm with a long history
To make sure your precious trip to Japan does not end with just seeing the sights, we invite you to meet Mr. Chiba, a local rice farmer whose family has run this farm in Yakumo town since the early days of Japanese immigration to the island. The history of the Chiba family is like a miniature version of the history of Japanese in Hokkaido!
You will get to know this lovely family and enjoy an unique opportunity to step back in time in their classical Japanese style farm house. Besides just experiencing Japan from a perspective that is often not visible for tourists, there are also plenty of interesting activities to try out in this charming South Hokkaido rice farm.
Fun local traditions
Visit to the Chiba house will give you a glimpse into the everyday life of Japanese rice farmers. Depending on the season you can even take part in rice harvesting yourself.
If having your knees deep in mud is not your thing, no need to worry. One fun activity that can be enjoyed year round is making warm and fluffy mochi rice cakes. Making rice cakes the traditional way involves a large wooden hammer and a special container for the ingredients. One person will hold the hammer high and hit with all they’ve got while the other person will flip the mochi dough in the container. A pro makes this activity look very easy, but it requires some strength. You will see that fresh rice cakes with sweet filling taste unbelievably good after some hard work!
Yakumo town in South Hokkaido is the place to unleash your inner history geek or just take in fascinating Japanese traditions and local lifestyle.
If you would like to get to know another off the beaten track Hokkaido destination, consider reading:
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