Hokkkaido (北海道) is second biggest of Japan's four main islands. It is also the furthest north, least developed, and has the coldest climate. Its weather is characterized by cold, snowy winters and mild summers.
As it is a very rural, rugged area, Hokkaido is popular with skiers, snowboarders, cyclists, hikers, and other outdoorspeople. The island is very seismically active, with many earthquake fault lines and several active volcanoes - including Mount Koma, Mount Meakan, Showashinzan, Mount Tarumae, Mount Tokachi, and Mount Usu.
Hokkaido is divided into three prefectures - Hakodate, Sapporo, and Nemuro. Because of the island's size, it is also divided into subprefectures - Abashiri, Hidaka, Hiyama, Iburi, Ishikari, Kamikawa, Kushiro, Nemuro, Oshima, Rumoi, Shiribeshi, Sorachi, Soya, and Tokachi.
Hokkaido's recorded history begins around 650 A.D., but archaeological remains point to settlements by the Ainu and other cultures as far back as 20,000 years ago. In the 1800s, Japan gained control of the island and sought to development. The development was driven in part by the need to prevent Russia from gaining a foothold in the area. Because of the island's proximity to Russia, there are still many Russian citizens and people of Russian descent living on the island.