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The northernmost and second largest of Japan's four main islands. It is separated from Honshū to the south by the Tsugaru Strait, bounded by the Sea of Japan on the West and the Pacific Ocean on the south and east. The climate is unlike that of the rest of Japan, being notably colder and drier. In prehistoric times, Hokkaidō, or Ezo, as it was known, was inhabited by the Ainu and not included in Japan proper. After the Meiji Restoration of 1868, the new government placed great emphasis on Hokkaidō's economic development, setting up a colonial office and encouraging settlers to come from other parts of Japan. Hokkaidō is noted for its dramatic and unspoiled scenery, which includes active volcanoes, large lakes, and vast virgin forests. Capital: Sapporo. (adapted from Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993)

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