1,200km (746 miles) NE of Tokyo; 283km (177 miles) NE of Hakodate
Sapporo is one of Japan's newest cities. About 140 years ago, it was nothing more than a scattering of huts belonging to Ainu and Japanese families. With the dawning of the Meiji Period, however, the government decided to colonize the island, and in 1869 it established the Colonization Commission. The area of Sapporo (the name comes from the Ainu word meaning "big, dry river") was chosen as the new capital site, and in 1871, construction of the city began.
During the Meiji Period, Japan looked eagerly toward the West for technology, ideas, and education, and Hokkaido was no exception. Between 1871 and 1884, 76 foreign technicians and experts (including 46 Americans) who had colonization experience were brought to this Japanese wilderness to aid in the island's development. Sapporo was laid out in a grid pattern of uniform blocks similar to that of an American city. In 1876, the Sapporo Agricultural College was founded to train youth in skills useful to Hokkaido's colonization and development.
The Sapporo of today, capital of Hokkaido Prefecture, has grown to 1.9 million residents, making it the largest city north of Tokyo (and the fifth largest in Japan). In 1972, it was introduced to the world when the Winter Olympics were held here, and its many fine ski slopes continue to attract winter vacationers, as does the Snow Festival, held every February. In August, when the rest of Japan is sweltering under uncomfortably high temperatures and humidity, Sapporo stays pleasantly cool.
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