Hokkaido, about 83,500 square kilometers in area, constitutes more than 20 percent of Japan's land area. Like the other main islands, Hokkaido is generally mountainous, but its mountains are lower than in other parts of Japan; many have leveled summits, and hills predominate. Valleys cut through the terrain, and communications are comparatively easy. Hokkaido was long looked upon as a remote frontier area and until the second half of the nineteenth century was left largely to the indigenous Ainu. The Ainu number fewer than 20,000, and they are being rapidly assimilated into the main Japanese population. Since the movement of modern technology and development into the area in the late nineteenth century, Hokkaido has been considered the major center of Japanese agriculture, forestry, fishing, and mining. Hokkaido, with about 90 percent of Japan's pastureland, produces the same proportion of its dairy products. Manufacturing industry played a smaller role compared with the other regions.
Hokkaido's environmental quality and rural character were altered by industrial and residential development in the 1980s, with developments such as the completion of the Seikan Tunnel linking Hokkaido and Honshu. Hokkaido is both an important agricultural center and a growing industrial area, with most industrial development near Sapporo, the prefectural capital.
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