Publication Date


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in History



Major Advisor

Shelton Woods, Ph.D.


Most history texts place the beginning of Japan’s colonial empire in 1895, with the acquisition of Formosa (now Taiwan) and Korea in 1910. The first Japanese experience with administering and developing a land not traditionally their own, nor inhabited by ethnically Yamato Japanese, however, might be found in the relatively inhospitable northern island of Hokkaido during the first half of the Meiji era (1868-1912). Hokkaido can be viewed as a colonization laboratory, where the blueprints of the later Japanese Empire were initially developed. It was not solely by native Japanese knowledge that the exploration, research, development, and the creation of infrastructure in Hokkaido were undertaken, but by well-paid foreign advisors. These Westerners (including many Americans) surveyed and categorized the resources of Hokkaido, while testing which crops, animals, structures, and methods might help the economy of Hokkaido develop into a modern one. Particularly with the establishment of an institution such as Sapporo Agricultural College, the foreign advisors trained a new generation of Japanese capable of doing just the same. Hokkaido’s development and the treatment and acculturation of the colonized peoples of Hokkaido, the native Ainu, would prove an invaluable guide and underlying influence to the colonization of areas like Formosa, Sakhalin, and Korea. Additionally, while Hokkaido was initially not so easily tamed and some initial development efforts stalled out, both the successful work and the failures accomplished during the period of the 1870s to 1890s effectively laid the groundwork for permanent Japanese settlement on the island. The early development of Hokkaido was therefore an important piece to Japan’s modernization and had far-reaching consequences for both Japanese imperialism and the Hokkaido of today.