National Geographic : 1980 Jan
larger than Grand Teton... people who like to call themselves the Americans of Japan. All these they find because Hokkaido is the last open country Japan still holds-an island that only a hundred years ago, when Tokyo was one of the largest cities on earth, remained a virtual wilderness. Trace an outline of Japan on a map of the world and traverse it along the lines of lati tude until it rests on eastern North America. Hokkaido's 30,313 square miles, a territory just smaller than Maine, lie in the heart of New England, and the two regions share much in climate, even in appearance. Cool weather forests of pine, birch, beech, oak, larch, and a dozen other species blanket 70 percent of the island, often draping along its contours in the orderly rows of scientific management. Fast waters in streams and swift rivers drain out of sharp-ribbed moun tains that top out at Mount Asahi, 7,513 feet high, where snow lingers into summer. The Pacific coast is Thoroughbred coun try, a white-fenced Kentucky of Japan. (Horse racing is the nation's most popular betting sport.) Elsewhere cattle and broad shouldered draft horses graze in high-walled valleys. Percherons, Bretons, Clydesdales first cleared the land and then pulled the plows that tamed it, but today they are bred for bamba, a race in which they drag sledges carrying driver and ballast weighing as much as a ton (page 72). A tendril of the Kuroshio, the Pacific Ocean's counterpart of the Gulf Stream, curls into the Sea of Japan to thaw Hokkai do's west coast. In the east the Oyashio washes south past the long, Soviet-annexed Kuril Islands chain from the Bering Sea A wealth of land enables Hokkaido to rival the nation's most fertile regions in riceproductionand surpassthem indairy ing, potatoes,and sugar beets. Largepad dies invite mechanized planting (left), three times faster than traditionalhand plantingtechniques (top). Home and haven for a tinyfishing village (overleaf), Kojima, or Little Island, rides the sea like a factory ship. Kelp, a prime summer take, dries on its gravel beach above molded concrete wave breakers.