Hokkaido, Japan – Culture, History, Sightseeing an More

Learn the history of HokkaidoHokkaido, Japan – History, Cities, Festivals, Food and more.

Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō) is Japan’s most northern region island and it’s closest prefecture neighbor is Aomori which is at the very northern part of the island of Honshu. Hokkaido was first ‘stolen’ from the Ainu people and made as a Japanese land mass in 1869 right after the beginning of the Meiji period.

It’s hard to describe the history and the current state of what Hokkaido is without explaining who first lived on this northern island of Japan before even the Japanese themselves occupied the land of what is now known as Japan. The Ainu people were the indigenous people that first inhabited the lands of Japan.

They are said to have come over from Russia long time ago when a frozen mass connected the island and Russia, and their ancestry has been said to stem back to the Jomon period, which is basically early man kind. I strongly recommend learning about the Ainu people, click here to learn more about Hokkaido the Ainu and where it’s been.

Hokkaido has been known as several names throughout history. Ezo, Yezo, Yeso and Yesso. It’s their second largest island of Japan and of course the most northern area of Japan before you get to the Kuril Islands and Russia. Hokkaido is separated from the island of Honshu of Japan by the Tsugaru Strait, but the two islands are now connected by an underwater railway called the Seikan Tunnel.

The main capital of Hokkaido is Sapporo, although there are several large cities in Hokkaido this is the only one that is ordinance-designated by the Japanese government. The Meiji period government had a tough decision to make when they came to renaming Hokkaido which was called Ezochi then.

They had a few choices when it came to renaming the island. They had Kaihokudo and Hokkaido, they of course decided to name the island Hokkaido, but they decided to write the kanji in a way to compromise between similar names then like Tokaido. But according to the Matsuura, the name Hokkaido was brought up because the Ainu people called the region Kai.

The food in Hokkaido is said to be some of the best seafood in the world. But the residents of Hokkaido have been able to manage growing crops on soil that’s been said to be hard to grow on because of all the activity with the volcanoes and the huge amount of volcanic ash that is in the area. But Hokkaido is known for garlic, potato’s and Japan’s largest grow area of corn.

It’s said that the seafood is so good though, that if you have any desire or liking of seafood, you should visit Hokkaido at least once in your life!

Hokkaido has a good amount of Earthquakes every year and also has active volcanoes such as:

Mount Meakan
Mount Tarumae
Mount Tokachi
Mount Usu
Mount Koma

But not everything in Hokkaido is a snowy mass or a volcano. The spring, summer and fall times of Hokkaido have a lot of beauty in them as well. In fact many come to Hokkaido during the summer months to come see the flower farms.

There are over 80 different flower farms or flower lands in Hokkaido that you can visit. Because of the unique summers Hokkaido has by not being too hot or too cold, it’s perfect for growing flowers, and because of this, Hokkaido has a huge tourist industry based solely off of Hokkaido’s flowers, and when the trees start to change in September for a festival called Momijigari. Click here to see the different Flower Lands in Hokkaido.

The wildlife in Hokkaido is extremely rugged being that it’s one of the roughest areas during the winter in the world. But, besides this rough wilderness it has more brown bear in the world then anywhere else in Asia. But it’s also known to have large amount deer and red crown crane that still live on the island. Some mountains will incur up to 400 inches of snow fall during the year and because of this Hokkaido is known for it’s snow sports.

There are several ski resorts in Hokkaido such as:

Niseko
Furano
Teine
Rusutsu

Hokkaido Festival:

Since it’s roots are in the winter, it’s not surprising to note that Hokkaido hosts several different festival during the Winter but host some famous Spring, Summer and Fall festivals as well:

Sapporo Snow Festival Asahikawa Snow Festival Sounkyo Ice Festival
Chitose-Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival Obihiro Ice Festival Otaru Yukiakari no Michi (Snow Gleaming)
Showashinzan International Yukigassan (Snowball Fight) Sounkyo Hyobaku (Ice Waterfall) Festival) Otofuke Tokachigawa Swan Festival Sairinka
Abashiri Okotsk Drift Ice Festival Lake Akan Ice Festival “Fuyu-hanabi” (Winter Fireworks) Mombetsu Drift Ice Festival
Sapporo Lilac Festival Hakodate Goryokaku Festival Matsumae Cherry Blossom Festival
Non Key Land Moss Phlox Festival Yosakoi Soran Festival Hokkaido Shrine Festival
Sapporo Summer Festival Pacific Music Festival Otaru Ushio Festival
Lake Shikotsu Lake Water Festival Hokkai Heso (Belly Button) Festival Shiretoko Shari Neputa
Noboribetsu Hell Festival Esashi Ubagami Daijingu Togyo Festival Furano Wine Festival
Nemuro Crab Festival Autumn Wine Festival Momijigari (Leaf Watching)
Marimo Festival Sapporo White Illumination Hakodate Christmas Fantasy Festival

Click here to learn more about these festivals.

The cities of Hokkaido are as followed:

Abashiri Akabira Asahikawa
Ashibetsu Bibai Chitose
Date Ebetsu Eniwa
Fukagawa Furano Hokdate
Hokuto Ishikari Iwamizawa
Kitahiroshima Kitami Kushiro
Mikasa Monbetsu Muroran
Nayoro Nemuro Noboribetsu
Obihiro Otaru Rumoi
Sapporo Shibetsu Sunagawa
Takikawa Tomakomai Utashinai
Wakkanai Yubari

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Izakaya Food, Drinks, Atmosphere and Etiquette

The How to and Dos and Donts of Izakaya Etiquette Foods Drink and MoreThe Japanese Izakaya

All you really need to know about Izakaya in Japan

It’s said that the infamous izakaya of Japan are basically small (sometimes large) restaurant/bars. This is where a lot of Japan goes before they end up going home for the night. Many will either visit a izakaya before or after their last train home. This is what makes Japan so alcohol friendly, there’s no need for designated drivers as long as you jump on the last train for the night (Usually between midnight and 1am).. but if you’re drunk as hell, you might want to remember your manners on the train.

Want to impress the local Japanese with your izakaya etiquette elite skills?

Try this one: Open the door to the izakaya, enter slightly inside (mostly with just your head), and say the following “haitte mo ii desuka?” which means, “may I come in?”. Now since you’ve totally just impressed everyone, lets move on!

When you arrive at a izakaya you may hear “otsukaresama deshita!!” (You look tired and deserve a drink!) and Kanpai (cheers)! This is a great place to unwind, relax, get wasted if you so choose and enjoy a great variety of izakaya foods. It’s not solely about the drink! During the weekdays you’ll notice a lot of coworkers sitting together talking and laughing to end their day before going home, and on the weekends izakayas are a popular location for get togethers, parties and the like.

First Snack and First Drink at Izakaya in Japan
“First Snack and First Drink” – o-tooshi tsuki-dashi

But it’s good to know when you first get there you will most likely be brought what they call a “o-tooshi tsuki-dashi” it means, “first snack, with the first drink”, and they can range from a basic cabbage mix to a bowl full of recently frozen edamame from China to a delicious seared tuna. But be sure to say something immediately if you do not want these appetizer/hors d’ourve then say “o-tooshi katto shite kudasai/お通しカットして下さい!” It means please remove or cut the appetizer. You can learn more about how to say Japanese hor d’ourves and Appetizer by reading this post.

But lets get to the good of an izakaya. What kind of foods are usually available at a izakaya in Japan?

Yakitori Food at a Japanese Bar
Yakitori at a Izakaya

The Top 7 Foods from Izakaya in Japan

#1: Okonomiyaki It’s usually a build your own pancake if you will, and it’s one of Japans more popular dishes believe it or not on street corners and izakaya. The Japanese meaning behind it is “as you like it”. So you can throw anything and basically everything you want into it!

Many times you’ll have cabbage, pork, fish, squid, or shrimp on the inside. The crispy and gooey meal is usually then drizzled with Kewpie mayo, blasted with some bonito flakes and layered with a bit of tonaktsu sauce!

#2: Korokke is a famous drinking appetizer in Japan at izakaya’s, it’s a fried croquette with potatoes and crabmeat.

#3: Yakitori of course is also a famous Japanese choice of appetizer and many times full meal. Yakitori is basically a skewered piece of chicken meat that it served with dipping sauce and a side of vegetables which are also skewered. You can also expect to see the skin, liver and heart of the tori (chicken) to be served as well

#4: Ikayaki is a basic type of o-tooshi (appetizer) that is a soy marinated squid (Ika) which is then grilled and sliced into pieces. It’s also a favorite street food in Japan and many street vendors will sell Ikayaki

#5: Omusubi and Onigiri are similar foods to sushi. These are basically rice, salmon, pickled plums, code or teriyaki spam or bacon wrapped in a nori (seaweed) wrap and severed with a blast of vinegar on the top.

#6: Karaage is Japanese fried chicken which is coated in potato starch which is called katakuriko. It’s a much lighter fried chicken then what most westerns are use to.

#7: Gyoza is a traditional Japanese food which is stuffed with vegetables and ground up pork meat. Gyoza is actually a potsticker, it’s a crispy meal that is covered in a sauce which is based around rice vinegar, soy and rayu which is a chile oil, this can be found in many real Chinese restaurants.

You might do well to learn basic chopstick etiquette while you are visiting izakaya in Japan.

It’s great to know these izakaya will pair their food nicely with the alcohol they serve.

Best Practices and Etiquette in a Izakaya in Japan
Drinking Etiquette in Japan and while at Izakaya

Izakaya Basic Etiquette

Izakayas are most of the time casual in their atmosphere, which overly means you leave the formality at the door!

#1: If you are with a group of people, it’s best to order the same drink as everyone else for the first round. Many times this will be a ‘nama biiru’ (which is a draft beer), this is normal and it’s something you will order before looking at the menu. You can ask for draft by saying ‘ Toriaezu, biiru’ (just beer for now).

#2: Using the phrase ‘Kanpi’ (cheers) before drinking and the phrase ‘itadakimasu’ (time to eat/thank you for the food) before you eat is a great way to be apart of the energy of the izakaya and to politely express that you are ready to eat.

#3: It’s considered polite to pour for others while in a group if you are drinking from bottles of sake or beer when they finish their cup, of course you can use this as a reminder for others to pour for you by pouring for them. If you are done drinking, just leave your cup full to avoid anyone else pouring for you.

#4: If you happen to be at a traditional izakaya, they may have bathrooms with bathroom only slippers. You’ll take off your shoes and use the slippers while in the bathroom, then you will take off the slippers when coming back out. It’s said that wearing the bathroom slippers out of the bathroom is one of the most embarrassing etiquette slip ups that you can make in Japan. I suppose it would be similar to have a piece of toilet paper sticking out of your shoe or pants.

You should be able to make your way around Japan and enjoy all the Izakaya you can possibly find!

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A Brief History of Chopsticks + Documentary

Information Chopstick Orgins and History with VideoThere’s More to Chopsticks Than Meets the Eye

A Short History of Chopsticks in Asia

hashi — No, not the Bridge the Chopsticks


Many many moons ago around 1200 BC the Chinese were using what today we would call chopsticks. Around 500 AD these tools of the feed my face trade flew into areas like Vietnam and Japan.

(You can watch this video here)

The first chopsticks that have been noted and found were in the ruins of Yin, in the Henan province in China. There were examples of Chinese ascribed scrolls, paintings and pottery that shown the first known chopsticks being used, which were a bronze chopstick set found in tombs.

These chopsticks were available and used for stirring and moving food that was cooking. So at this time chopsticks were more so a cooking utensil. Chopsticks came about because a population increase all across China which sucked up all the resources in city areas and it forced cooks in these aread to start creating ways to develop cost-saving techniques.

Food was being chopped into more fine pieces which required much less cooking (fuel and resources) then before. But whats more perfect then some chopsticks to be able to grab these tiny pieces of food then a chopstick? So as this continued things like knives became obsolete. The chopstick era truly began because of Confucius. Being that Confucius was a vegetarian he saw knives and stabbing utensils as something that would be used in a slaughterhouse.

Confucius also had a mighty strong belief in Feng Shui and he thought that knives evoked warfare, killing and violence which over all destroyed the pleasant feeling and vibe of eating during meals. Afterward this idea sprung into action across Asia. Of course many Asian countries use chopsticks a bit different then some. For example, Chinese chopsticks have more of a blunt end to them, in Japan chopsticks had certain sizes for both genders (7 inches for woman and 8 inches for men).

Around 1878 the Japanese were the first country to make disposable sets of chopsticks made from bamboo and wood. Of course more economically sound families would eat their meals with chopsticks made out of brass, coral, jade, ivory and agate. Most well off families would and still use silver based chopsticks, which are said to turn black when they touch poisonous food.

There you have it, a brief history of the mighty chopstick!
Ha-shi or はし is chopstick in Japanese, which can also mean bridge!
So, はしおください。(ha-shi o kuda-sai)。 Chopsticks Give Me Please!

Be sure to check out Japanese Chopstick Etiquette Here.

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