HOKKAIDO – North Sea Road 北海道

Hokkaido name

The only prefecture that’s a “do” (道) instead of a ken (県). It’s also the only prefectural name where we always pronounce the “do” suffix. In Japanese and English, we never say “Hokkai Prefecture.” It’s always “Hokkaido” with or without “Prefecture.” Unique prefecture in many ways.

Before it was named Hokkaido, it had a number of names including Ainu names like “Ezochi” (蝦夷地) meaning “place where different ethnic tribes live,” sometimes referred to as “barbarians.”

The Meiji Government wanted a new name, and out of six proposals (all ending with the kanji do 道 to indicate “expansive land”) given by Hokkaido expert and cartographer Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦武四郎), “Hokkaido” was selected in 1869.

Matsuura’s initial kanji characters for Hokkaido was 北加伊道 with 加伊 (kai) referring to the Ainu natives. So the meaning was “where Ainu in the north live.” However, the Meiji Government replaced the 加伊 with 海 which has the same pronunciation, but the meaning is “ocean.” And this became the name of the prefecture and the island.

Coincidentally, Matsuura’s pen name was Hokkai Dojin (北海道人) which he adopted even before Hokkaido was so named. Hokkaido has been one of Japan’s most appealing tourist destinations for many years.

Old province name: Ezo (Yezo) or Ezochi (蝦夷、蝦夷地). Referred to Hokkaido, Sakhalin, and the Kurile Islands.

*The AI-generated image is for illustrative purposes only and may not accurately depict any particular place in the prefecture.
*Major reference sources: Official prefectural website, Japanese Wikipedia, other websites.

Origin of other prefectural names (etymologies)
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