Tokachi Station - National Livestock Breeding Center

Daisetsu Mountains behind a pastureland of Tokachi Station
Most foreigners might believe that Japan is a highly crowded country. People live in small houses like "rabbit hatches" and employees must commute in jam-packed trains. Such an image is created because most foreigners know Japan only by Tokyo or at most by the Pacific coastal zone from Tokyo via Osaka till Fukuoka.

The size of Tokyo Prefecture is 2,187 km2 and its population density reaches, with 13 million inhabitants, 5,930 per km2. In case of Suginami Ward where I live, the figure jumps up to 15,940 per km2. People indeed have to share limited space with many other people.

However, the situation is significantly different in provincial areas. The northern most island Hokkaido, for example, has mere 66.4 inhabitants per km2 (83.5 thousand km2 and 5.54 million inhabitants). According to the world ranking of population density, this figure corresponds to number 135, Honduras, among 235 countries and regions of the world. Denmark has approximately the same number of inhabitants (5.47 million) as Hokkaido (5.54 million), but its area (43.1 thousand km2) is almost half of Hokkaido (83.5 thousand km2). Therefore, Denmark has twice as high population density (127 per km2) as Hokkaido.

I knew this as abstract knowledge. But, when I visited Shihro Town, I could feel the wideness of Tokachi Plain for the first time. Shihoro Town's population density is mere 25.6 per km2, which corresponds to number 181 after Laos. Its neighboring municipality Ashoro has only about 8.5 thousand inhabitants in the area which is about two thirds of the whole Tokyo Prefecture. This results in mere 5.66 inhabitants per km2, which corresponds to number 220, between Kazakhstan in the Siberian steppe-land and Gabon in the tropical rain forest.

I have not been to Ashoro. But, I could feel the vastness of Hokkaido in Tokachi Station, which is located in Shihoro. Its English internet page (Beautiful photo gallery)briefly describes its geographical features, history and activities, and I do not intend to write here about the station in details. I merely want to underline that I was impressed by the landscape I could see in Tokachi Station, which is totally different from the traditional parts of Japan. I do not know whether the difference simply comes from the difference of population or Hokkaido has different geographical characters which are rather common with Siberia. Anyhow, it is understandable to me that Hokkaido attracts many tourists from Korea, Taiwan, China and other parts of East Asia. They all live in overcrowded environments in the humid Asian monsoon zone and yearn for vast landscape with cold climate - and maybe snow.

This bull has survived severe competition more than four years. Nevertheless, his eyes look so sad.
Tokachi Station is abundant with domestic animals of different kinds, which are not usually seen in Japan. For example, there are many horses. But, they are not popular Thoroughbred horses but heavy draft horses and riding horses. Maybe some of them might run in Ban'ei race in Obihiro. It is also a rare occasion to see a sheep herd in Japan. Mutton is used in "Jingiskan" (Genghis Khan) - a specialty dish of Hokkaido - but, mutton meat is mostly imported from overseas. Another unusual thing is that only Holstein bulls - no cows - are allowed to live in a corner of the Station. More than 100 bulls must compete with each other to create better genetic heritage and outlive others - a hard task.

The old wooden buildings of Tokachi Station remind me of life several decades ago when houses and buildings were still built only of wood and other natural materials. In Tokyo area most wooden houses and buildings were torn down long ago and replaced with tasteless buildings made of plastic and other artificial materials. So, in Tokachi Station we can experience the romantic part of our recent past. I dreamt of some stories written by Kenji Miyazawa.