5. Jun 2022 | History

Hokkaido Trivia – Modern Hokkaido Owes To the Prisoners

I just read in the papers that a huge resort hotel developer is reforming a historical prison in Nara prefecture (built 1908) into a luxury hotel by summer of 2024.

Talking about prisons – Hokkaido is a prefecture where many prisons were built in the late 19th century.  Here’s the reason why:

Under the new Meiji government that started in 1867, Japan’s first priority was to keep herself safe from Russia’s invasion and colonization and prove herself strong and wealthy enough to join the other modern countries in the west.   Prisons were built one after another and huge number of political criminals were brought to Hokkaido to provide the labor needed to cultivate the land and to build the infrastructure to carry people and war goods.  The prisoners actually built 55% of all the roads built in Hokkaido during that time.  The construction of the central road running from Sapporo in the west to Abashiri in northeast is said to be the harshest of all in Japan’s history of forced labor.  While fighting wild beasts (ie bears) and cultivating complete wilderness on top of cold, hunger and fatigue, they were forced to construct 163km in 8 months.

The prison in Abashiri is still in operation today with new facilities.  The old historical buildings that were used till 1986 are now preserved as a museum.  A visit to the museum would give you a better idea of how Hokkaido’s present flourishment owes to the sacrifices of the prisoners 130 years ago.

Hope this can be a little hint for you to enjoy your activities in Hokkaido in your future travel!

Main Gate of the Prison Museum
(actual gate of the old prison)