Manchester University
Oak Leaves

May 12, 2017


Photo Courtesy of Haylee Parrish

Letter From Japan

Haylee Parrish
Guest Writer 

On Saturday, April 29, my host family took me to visit Sapporo’s Hokkaido Museum in order to learn more about Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main four islands. The exhibitions include information about Hokkaido’s history from ancient times into the modern era and offer displays regarding ancient beasts, the cultures of different groups of people who inhabited Hokkaido, the ways in which Hokkaido’s society shifted into the modern age and its various ecosystems.

The tour, which is conducted in Japanese but may be enjoyed in English through translated informational boards and info provided on the museum’s official website, starts in a large room with two massive displays of Naumann’s elephant and a mammoth, placed strategically to show the direction of their migration. The floor of the room is a massive map of Japan and the surrounding regions, including the Asian continent. The ancient animals, which migrated to Hokkaido from the south and the north respectively, serve as the tour’s starting point by giving a clear and chronological example of how Hokkaido, since ancient times, has been a center for activity.

The museum preserves several relics of Hokkaido’s human history. Although Hokkaido underwent major settlement and development to bring more people onto the land approximately 150 years ago, human life has been present on the island for about 30,000 years. Displays hold relics of the cultures of the people who have inhabited Hokkaido, such as the Jomon, Satsumon and Ainu people. Artifacts include clay figurines used in rituals, beaded jewelry, earthenware pottery, fishing items fashioned from animal bone, early weapons including knives and bows and arrows and clothing.

The Ainu, which are an indigenous people of Japan, have a themed room of their own to celebrate their way of life and how their culture shifted following the Meiji period. The major displays in this room include a long dugout canoe made from a hollowed-out log, used for both fishing and transportation, and a restored Ainu dwelling, complete with a hearth used to keep its inhabitants warm in the cold climate. The Ainu language may also be studied by exploring its oral traditions. Video footage allows visitors to watch and listen to the Ainu’s traditional dances and music. With the Meiji period came the breakdown of their old ways of life, but the Ainu still exist today and hold their heritage dear to them.
Another theme focuses on Hokkaido’s growth into the current time. Displayed objects include appliances such as a refrigerator, sewing machine, an old television and a post office box, highlighting a society quickly adapting to consumerism as its economy expanded.Following World War II, Hokkaido underwent considerable growth in order to restore Japan’s economy. By expanding infrastructure, housing and industrial advancement, Hokkaido experienced economic growth and began to switch from traditional items used in everyday life to modern appliances and innovations.

The museum’s ecosystem exhibition allows visitors to discover Hokkaido’s flora and fauna and to learn about the connections between the different parts of the ecosystems. Other sections display the animals that inhabit Hokkaido. Bears are one of the major animals focused on in the exhibition, as they are very present in Hokkaido. Nearby, another section provides microscopes to examine creatures and shells so small they are kept on microscope slides. In another room, which is kept dark, visitors may pick up small flashlights and illuminate the darkness to discover deer, which may be especially appealing for children. Videos are also shown to visitors, such as one displayed on the wall of an owl hunting.

No matter young or old, Sapporo’s Hokkaido Museum offers a rich educational experience for everyone, providing visitors with the opportunity to learn in-depth about its unique history, cultures and ecosystems.
Until next time, “mata ne!”