Legal integration

The road to prefecturehood

By William Wetherall

First drafted 2000
First posted 1 June 2007
Last updated 15 August 2007

Bureaucratic portents of the future

It is fashionable, in today's intellectual climate, to deploy elaborate arguments -- usually in the service of present-day victimhood politics -- to deconstruct and otherwise discredit the hard realities of the past. Take for instance the legitimacy of the treaties that ceded Japan Taiwan and Korea. Like them or not, they were legal in the climate of international law that prevailed when they were concluded. And their legal effects have not suddenly stopped because the nationalistic ambitions that fostered their conclusion seem more reprehensible today than then.

Legacy of legitimacy

The legitimacy of the earlier treaties is acknowleged in the later treaties that nullified them -- nullification being an act of termination, not denial, of their effectiveness. The newer treaties permit courts all over the world to continue to view the earlier treaties as binding during the periods they were in effect -- as is seen in numerous rulings on nationality issues involving Taiwanese and Koreans in Japan.

In other words, Taiwan and Korea became parts of Japan, and their inhabitants became Japanese -- and they did not cease to be Japanese until 28 April 1952. These facts cannot be changed simply by wishing them away with arguments which insist that Japan had no right to Taiwan or Korea to begin with -- that Japan unfairly if not illegally forced China to cede Taiwan and Korea to cede itself.

Accepting the harsh legal realities of the Empire of Japan may not be easy, but acceptance is the first step to a better understanding of the legacies of the imperial past that continue to effect the present.

Future intentions

Another aspect of the legal status of Taiwan and Korea as integral parts of Japan's sovereign empire concerns the extent to which these two subnations -- as they were at the time -- were candidates for integration, like Karafuto, into the prefectural subnation. At issue is whether moving Taiwan and Korea under the Ministry of Home Affairs, in 1942, constituted a genuine effort at prefecturization.

Viewed statically -- in terms of just the two years or so that passed before the end of the war -- the answer is no: the bureaucratic reshuffle amounted to mostly linguistic rather than policy changes.

However, viewed dynamically -- as a shift in a process that had been going on for three or four decades, and would have to continue for several more years if not decades -- the language change has to be seen as the beginning of an intention to eventually integrate all subnations -- each of which had had its own legal system -- into a single nation under a uniform set of laws.


On 1 November 1942, when the Greater East Asia Ministry was created to oversee all territories beyond Japan's sovereign empire, the Karafuto Government (樺太庁 Karafutocho) was transferred from the defunct Overseas Affairs Ministry to the Home Affairs Ministry.

The Governments-General of Taiwan and Chosen were also brought under the wing of the Home Ministry. The intent was to curtail the special authority excercised by the Governor-General of Korea. However, he protested and continued to oversee Korea's affairs as before.

Mizuno Naoki's argument

Mizuno Naoki (水野直樹), a specialist on Chosen (Korea) under Japan's control, at the Institute for Research in Humanities (人文科学研究所 Jinbun Kagaku Kenkyujo) at Kyoto University, argues that the problem of the assimilation of gaichi into naichi 外地の内地化 (gaichi no naichika) needs to be examined at three levels (Mizuno's homepage, 1997, translation mine).

  1. The problem of how central administration organs treat colony administration (integration of Development Affairs Ministry with Home Affairs Ministry in central government)
  2. The problem of the relationship between central administration organs and colony control organs (disbandment of the [Chosen and Taiwan] Governments-General as general administration organs)
  3. The problem of unification of legal jurisdictions (dissolution of differentiation and discrimination between "naichijin" and "gaichijin").

水野直樹 Mizuno Naoki
Senjiki no shokuminchi shihai to "naigaichi gyosei ichigenka" [War-time colony control and "Unification of administration of naichi and gaichi"]
人文学報 Jinbun gakuho [Zinbun gakuho]
[Journal of humanistic studies]
第79号(1997年3月)Dai 79 go (1997-nen 3-gatsu)
[Number 79, March 1997]

Mizuno's statement is the most succinct I have seen of issues that have been well-known to students of Japan's administration of Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea. One of the best early overviews in English, which covers similar grounds, is I-te Chen's doctoral dissertation, Japanese Colonialism in Korea and Formosa: A Comparison of its effects upon the development of nationalism, Political Science, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, 1968.

Mizuno argues that the integration of Taiwan and Korea into Home Affairs was mostly a bureucratic shuffle that had little consquence on how these subnations were overseen. In otherwords, the process of integration into the prefectural system pretty much ended at level (1) in Mizuno's scheme.

Mizuno therefore rejects the view that these two gaichi were treated as "semi naichi" (準内地 junnaichi) or otherwise constitute convincing examples of genuine "naichiization of gaichi" (外地の内地化 gaichi no naichika).

Weakness of Mizuno's argument

Mizuno's argument is valid as a static analysis. The facts, as he aligns them, refute the claim that Taiwan or Korea were being treated as "semi prefectures" at the time the war ended.

Karafuto, of course, was different matter. The southern part of Karafuto had had been under Japanese influence and control much longer than Taiwan or Korea. It had easily been Japanized after 1905 and been quickly groomed for integration into the prefectural polity. However, after joining the interior in 1943, Karafuto continued to be tethered to the central government, much as were Hokkaido and Okinawa.

Taiwan, and more so Korea, were not so easily Japanized. As of 1942, Taiwan had been under Japanese rule for over forty-five years and Korea for over thirty years. They were just beginning to yield to the forces of Japanization, brought about by slow legal and sociocultural assimilation. Even under the best circumstances -- a truce which allowed the treaties that had ceded Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea to Japan to stand -- it would take many more years, possibly two, even three more decades, for complete legal integration to occur.

As it was, the war went so badly that the governments of Taiwan and Korea began to prepare for the contingency of eventual loss of these territories. Under such circumstances, one hardly expects to see progress in the direction of "prefecturalization".


Prefectures in Japan, like states in the United States, are similar to the extent that both are enfranchised as semi-autonomous entities within a larger state entity. Prefecturization in Japan is the counterpart of achieving statehood in the United States. An entity begins as a territory and, though a legal process of enfranchisement in the larger state, becomes a prefecture or state.

Prefecturization began during the first years of the Meiji period (1868-1912) with the conversion of territories called domains (藩 han), owned and ruled by lords with the sanction of the Tokugawa shogunate, into prefectures overseen by governors serving the imperial state.

Domain registers transferred to emperor

Since the Meiji restorationists sought to create a state based on imperial sovereignty, they had to persuade domain lords to transfer their territorial sovereignty to the emperor. This was achieved in 1869 when domain lords "returned" to the emperor the registers of land and people that defined their territories (版籍奉還 hanseki hokan) -- "hanseki" meaning the registers of land and people, and "hokan" being a respectful term for "return" to an authority.

Domains restructed as prefectures

The next step came in 1871 with an imperial ordinance (Meiji 4-7-14, 29 August 1871) that abolished the domains and established prefectures (廃藩置県 haihan chiken). There were initially seventy-five prefectures (府県 fuken), consisting of Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka "fu" (府) and seventy-two "ken" (県), in addition to Hokkaido, then just a territory slated for development and settlement.

While some domains became prefectures with little or no change in borders, others were merged into or divided between prefectures. During the early years of the Meiji period, there many border changes as the total number of prefectures was reduced through break up and merger. The Seinan War of 1877, in Kyushu, was partly over prefecturalization disputes.

Prefecturization was slower for newer territories which had not been domains under the Tokugawa shogunate -- first Ezo, Ryukyu, and Ogasawara -- then Karafuto, Taiwan, and Korea. In all cases, prefecturization began with a period of territorization.

Ezo, Ryukyu, Ogasawara

Ezo had been teathered to the Matsumae domain, and at times directly to the Tokugawa shogunate, since the 17th century. Japan annexed the island as Hokkaido in 1869. Hokkaido territory became Hakodate, Sapporo, and Nemuro prefectures in 1882, and these three prefectures were merged into Hokkaido prefecture in 1886.

Ryukyu, a kingdom, had been a tributary state of China and, since the 17th century, a suzerainty of the Shimazu clan in Kyushu. Japan annexed Ryukyu as a domain (琉球藩 Ryukyuhan) in 1872, then made it Okinawa prefecture (沖縄県 Okinawaken) in 1879, thus forcing an end to the kingdom and its tributary relationship with China.

The Ogasawaras were not internationally recognized as part of Japan's sovereign dominion until 1875. Japan foramlly attached the islands to Tokyo prefecture in 1880.

Despite the long involvement of Japanese domains with Ezo and Ryukyu before the Meiji period, neither was immediately or easily enfranchised as a prefecture. Both contined to be partly controlled by the central government. Even today they have less autonomy than prefectures which originated from Tokugawa domains. The Ogasawaras, too, have been treated somewhat exceptionally on account of their more recent, and diplomatically more complex, origins as parts of Japan.

Taiwan, Karafuto, Korea

Taiwan became an object of Japanese diplomatic and military action in 1874, when Saigo Tsugumichi (1843-1902) led an expedition to Taiwan to punish and civilize a southern tribe which had killed over 50 shipwrecked Ryukyuan fishermen in 1871. In the settlement to the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895, which had nothing to do with Taiwan, China ceded Taiwan (Formosa) and the associated Pescardores (Penghu islands) to Japan.

Both Russia and Japan (Tokugawa shogunate) had outposts on Sakhalin (Saghalien, J. Karafuto) in the early 19th century. Both also claimed the Kuril (Kurile, J. Chishima) islands. In 1875, the two countries agreed that Russia would have Sakhalin and Japan would own Chishima. As part of the settlement to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, which had nothing to do with Sakhalin, Russia ceded to Japan the southern half of the island below the 50th parallel.

Japan and Korea have had several conflicts during their mutual history of nearly two millennia. In the time frame of prefecturalization, the Kanghwado (江華島 J. Kokato) incident of 1875 signified the role that Korea was destined to play in Japans relations with China then and with both China and Russia latter. Korea was a battleground in both the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars. During the latter, Korea became a protectorate of Japan, and afterward Japan acted as Korea's proxy in diplomatic matters. Then In 1910, the Emperor of Korea ceded his sovereignty to the Emperor of Japan.

Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea -- unlike Ezo, Ryukyu, and the Ogasawaras -- were ceded to Japan in formal treaties by the states that had previously possessed them. Among them only Karafuto -- somewhat like Ezo and Ryukyu -- had been significantly influenced by intimate contact with Japan. Taiwan and Korea, in particular, would take more time to Japanize not only legally but also socially and culturally.

Subnations more than colonies

While fashionable to classify Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea as Japanese colonies, from the very beginning they were enfranchised into the sovereign empire as subnations. Their affiliated populations were Japanese nationals, and though each of their legal systems was different, all were tethered to laws derived in part from those that operated in the prefectural subnation.

The three exterior entites (外地 gaichi) were not, at first, considered likely to become prefectures and thereby qualify as members of the interior entity (内地 naichi). However, as more provisions of naichi laws were extended to gaichi jurisdictions, and as Japanization in social and cultural matters also continued, the idea of eventually integrating all three gaichi into the naichi began to gather support.

The impetus for the prefecturization (or gaichiization) of Taiwan, Karafuto, and Korea was partly ideological and partly rational. The notion of all imperial subjects integrated under a single system, sharing the same laws and sociocultural conventions, was highly romantic to racioethnic assimilationists. For those interested in efficiency, coordinating four different legal systems within the empire was proving to be a political and bureaucratic nightmare -- long before the limited war with China, then the total war with the United States and other allies, began to seriously strain the imperial government's resources.

1929 -- Land Development Ministry

Variously dubbed the "Ministry of Overseas Affairs" and the "Colonial Department" in English, 拓務省 (Takumusho) means something closer to "ministry of land development affairs". The appelation signifies the exploitation and settlement of agricultural and other lands outside the prefectures but under Japan's control. Officially, this was not "colonialization" but coordination of economic and industrial development and emigration.

While it would be easy to sweep such distinctions aside as semantic hair-splitting, in fact there were serious divisions of opinion within the Japanese government about Japan's intentions in the regions concerned. On a linguistic note, Japanese terminology was very concise and consistent, whereas the English renderings of keywords in English yearbooks and other literature are notoriously arbitrary and misleading.

In any event, the Land Development Ministry originated on 22 June 1910 as a bureau (拓務局 Takumukyoku) directly attached to the Imperial Cabinet (帝国内閣 Teikoku Naikaku). It underwent several metaphorpheses, including a death and resurrection, until on 10 June 1929 it was upgraded to a ministry.

The new ministry was created to consolidate the administration of, and coordinate emigration and settlement in, all exterior territories, including some of the non-sovereign territories in China and the South Pacific. The new ministry had supervisory responsibility for the following non-prefectural governments.

Chosen Government-General (朝鮮総督府 Chosen Sotoku Fu)
Taiwan Government-General 台湾総督府 (Taiwan Sotoku Fu)
Karafuto Government (樺太庁 Karafutocho)
South Seas [Islands] Government (南洋庁 Nan'yocho)
Kwantung Government, 関東庁 (Kantocho)

The new ministry also oversaw operations of the South Manchuria Railway Company and other business operations and emigration in Greater East Asia and the Pacific. However, at the time its authority did not extend to Manchuria. And though in principle its authority extended to Korea, in practice the new ministry failed to gain direct control over the Chosen Government-General.

The creation of the Land Development Ministry had little affect on the governor of Karafuto, who was already at the mercy of the central government in Tokyo. The governor-general of Taiwan, who had been closely supervised by Tokyo, readily submitted to the new ministry's reigns. However, the governor-general of Korea, who was accustomed to virtually autocratic powers, rejected the new ministry's control and continued to administer Korea with little interference.

The Land Development Ministry was abolished in 1942. Its operations were divided between other ministries, including the Home Ministry, the Foreign Ministry, and the Greater East Asia Ministry which had been newly created to oversee the entire Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere (大東亜共栄圏 Dai-To-A Kyoei Ken).

1942 -- Greater East Asia Ministry

The Greater East Asia Ministry (大東亜省 Dai-To-A Sho) was Established on 1 November 1942 and abolished by SCAP on 26 August 1945. The minister included the following regional bureaus.

Bureau of Manchurian Affairs (満州事務局 Manshu Jimu Kyoku)
Bureau of China Affairs (支那事務局 Shina Jimu Kyoku)
Bureau of Southern Affairs (南方事務局 Nanpo Jimu Kyoku)

In 1942, Togo Shigenori (東郷茂徳 1882-1950), the Minister of Foreign Affairs at both the start and end of the Pacific War, resigned his post in protest of the creation of the Greater East Asia Ministry. Togo argued that the existence of this new ministry, along with his ministry, would result in a dual diplomacy, one dealing with the Allies and other countries outside Greater East Asia, and the other dealing with East Asian and Pacific countries Japan was then occupying with the intent of liberating them from Euroamerican control.

Such a dual diplomacy would create the impression, contrary to the position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that Japan intended to colonize Greater East Asia and was already excluding the region from the scope of its foreign policy. Togo's protest was effective to the extent that, with the exception of the first head of the new ministry, the post was filled by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In fact, Togo himself headed both ministries during the final months of the war. He was prosecuted as a Class A war criminal and was senteced to 20 years, rather than death. He known to oppose the war, its spread, and prolongation.

With the creation in 1942 of the Greater East Asia Ministry, the Land Development Bureau created in 1929, and the Manchurian Affairs Bureau (対満事務局 Taiman Jimu Kyoku) set up in 1934 to oversee Japan's Chinese territories, were disbanded. Some of their functions were taken over by the new ministry, others by the Home Affairs Ministry

1942 -- Home Affairs Ministry

The governors-general of Taiwan and Korea, and the governor of Karafuto, were made answerable to the powerful Home Affairs Ministry, which now had jurisdiction in the three exterior subnations as well as the interior. The governors of the unincorporated territories in China and the South Pacific were placed under the new Greater East Asia Ministry.

The Home Affairs Ministry (内務省 Naimusho) -- literally the ministry of interior affairs -- oversaw every aspect of interior government, from the prefectures and municipalities, to the police, construction, labor, and health. It was in fact tantamount to the interior government in that it had total control over the interior. Extending its jurisdiction to the exterior subnations virtually sealed their fate as eventual candidates for total integration and assimilation into the interior. There were numerous political and legal hurdles, but they would be jumped.

Home Affairs Ministry and Karafuto

The Karafuto Government (樺太庁 Karafutocho) formally came into existence from 1 April 1907. The governors-general of Karafuto reported directly to the Minister of Home Affairs from 1907-1910 and 1912-1917, the Prime Minister from 1910-1912 and 1917-1929), and the Minister of Land Development from 1929-1942).

Karafuto began to be legally treated as an exterior territory from 3 May 1920 (Law No. 124). In 1930, there was a proposal in the Cabinet Secretariat to incorporate Karafuto into the interior because it did not quite have the character of the other two exterior territories. The proposal called for (1) the abolishment of Karafutocho (樺太庁) and the creation of (樺太県), (2) the adminstration of Karafuto prefecture by the central government, and in time its recognition as a self-governing entity (自治体 jichitai), and (3) the abolishment of special accounting for the territory (Miki Masafumi, 1930年代の樺太における石炭業 [1930 nendai no Karafuto ni okeru sekitangyo (The coal inudstry in Karafuto during the 1930s)], Ajia keizai [Asian Economics], Vol. 46, No. 5, May 2005, page 4).

On 1 November 1942, Karafuto was brought under the wing of the Home Ministry. Steps were immediately taken to govern it under interior laws. It was incorporated into the interior when the 1920 law was abrogated on 26 March 1943 (Law No. 85).

The war ended, and Karafuto was lost to Russia, before it could make the full transition to a prefecture. It it not have a governor-general (長官 chokan) rather than a governor (知事 chiji), and the fifteen and last governor-general, Otsu Toshio (大津敏男 1893-1958), served from 1 July 1943 through 17 November 1947. On 30 December 1945, the Soviet's ordered him to dissolve his government, then arrested him and other Japanese civil servants. Otsu was tried and interned, and apparently he did not repatriated to Japan until 1950. I do not yet know the significance of the 17 November 1947 date.

Statistically, Karafuto was treated as a semi-interior entity long before it was formally incorporated into the interior. The Home Affairs Ministry had been appending Karafuto's vital statistics to interior statistics from the late 1920s.

Some statistics published after its formal incorporation show Karafuto to be Japan's 48th prefecture. The Home Ministry's 1943 birth, death, marriage, and divorce statistics for interior subjects show Karafuto ahead of Hokkaido at the top of the north-to-south prefectural list. The interior total at the top includes Karafuto. At the bottom is a subtotal labeled "former interior excluding Karafuto" for comparison with earlier data. The statistics were published in December 1945 -- three months after Karafuto was invaded and occupied by the Soviet Union. Similarly, Okinawa began to be included in postwar prefectural statistics only from 1972 -- having not been part of Japan again until 15 May that year.

In 1948, the Home Affairs Ministry was broken up into several ministries and agencies. The new Ministry of Home Affairs (自治省 Jichisho) -- literally "ministry of self-government" -- coordinated only local governments, meaning prefectures and their municipal polities. In 2001, this ministry was merged with another ministry and an agency into the Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications (総務省 Somusho) -- literally "ministry of general affairs".

Postwar nationality disposition

Though the Kurils (J. Chishima) are part of the southern province of Sakhalin in Russia today, the Chishimas were not part of Karafuto but part of Hokkaido. The two territories, lost to the Soviet Union in the final days of World War II, were treated the nationality related ordinances after the war.

Both Karafuto and the Chishima are viewed as having been part of Japan's interior in the 1952 Civil Affairs A No. 438 notification, concerning the disposition of nationality and family register matters regarding Koreans, Taiwanese, and others, associated with the effectuation of the [1951] Treaty of Peace [with Japan] from 28 April 1952. From this date, Taiwan and Korea were separated from Japan, and hence people with principal registers in these territories lost their Japanese nationality. However, those whose principal registers were in Karafuto and Chishima, though they too would lose their nationality as a result of their registers being separated from Japan, were allowed to reestablish their family registers within Japan, in recognition of the fact that these two territories had been integrated into the interior.

Alternative history

Would Taiwan and Korea, too, eventually have become prefectures? Probably. An ordinance that would have made their governors-general accountable to the Cabinet and Diet, on a par with prefectural governors, was never fully implemented. More legal restructuring was needed to bring Taiwan and Korea under interior laws so that they could be administrated as prefectures.

More importantly, the wheels of total integration and assimilation were in motion. Had Japan not lost Taiwan and Korea, and continued to contain resistance to its domination in these lands, it would now have at fifty prefectures.

Arguing this way inferiorates Chinese and Korean nationalist, who have to patience with the realities of actual and potential histories. The world is full of states that are what they are today, precisely because of the awesome forces of nationalization that I have described.

The People's Republic of China would not be the size it is today had China, during its recent history, not resorted to means similar to those Japan did in the process of expanding its national territory and population. The United States would not be a fraction of its present size had its expansionist toolbox not also contained the basic instruments of nationalization -- coercive legal integration and sociocultural assimilation.


Etymology of "Karafuto"

The linguistic origins of "karafuto" are anything but clear. The use of characters to represent the elements of personal and place names should always be viewed with skepticism. Even when the characters would appear to make sense, the original meanings of the names need to be explained linguistically rather than graphically. In other words, writing should never be confused for language.

One has to assume that the word "karafuto" came before any characters were used to represent it in writing. On the surface, 樺太 would read, in standard Japanese today, "kabafuto" (樺太) -- "kaba" (or "kanba") being a kind of birch (cf. "white birch" 白樺 shirakaba), and "futo" (usually "buto") meaning "thick" or "large". The place name has also been written 唐太, which on the surface would read "karafuto" or "karabuto" -- "kara" meaning "China".

Here are a number of hypotheses about the meaning of "karafuto" -- including two conflicting Ainu theories. I have gathered and supplemented them from several Internet sources, though several books on Karafuto also touch upon some its etymology.

1900s "distant fortress" theory

The Meiji scholar Ogawa Unpei (小川運平 1876−1935), who wrote books about China, Manchuria, and Karafuto, thought "karafuto" might be a corruption of mongolian "karahoton", in which "kara" [qola] means "far" and "hoton" means "castle".

1854 "empty large" theory

In 1854, the Edo scholar Maeda Kain / Natsukage (前田夏蔭 1793-1864) published a work called Ezo tozai kosho (蝦夷東西考証), a study of eastern and western that also includes material on northern Ezo. In it, he ventures that "karafuto" reflects 空虚太 meaning "empty and large" -- as he supposed early Japanese travellers regarded the huge, mountainous island.

1791 "Chinaman" theory

One theory is that "karafuto" is a corruption of "karahito" or "karabito" meaning "Chinese person" -- as Chinese were deeply involved in, and at times dominated, the Northeast Asian trade that flowed through the island. One vestige of the Karafuto trade route is "karafutodama" (樺太玉), which were green or red kneaded beads, made in Northeast China and imported into Japan through Karafuto during the Tokugawa period.

The theory that "karafuto" means "chinaman" is attributed to the Edo astronomer Takahashi Kageyasu (高橋景保 (1785-1829). In Hokui kosho (北夷考証), a 1791 work about the "northern barbarians", he is supposed to said that Japanese named the island "karahito" (唐人) because they thought Chinese were its native inhabitants. The "hi" of "karahito" was then corrupted to "fu".

1867 "prawn" theory

The late Edo explorer Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦武四郎 1818-1888) surveyed both Ezo and Karafuto for the Tokugawa shogunate. He gave Ezo the name Hokkaido when it was annexed by the Meiji government in 1869. Matsuura, who had earlier been a monk, wrote under the playful name "Hokkai Dojin" (Hokkai Dojin) or "Northsea Traveler". In Ezo nendai ki (蝦夷年代記), finished in 1867 and published in 1871, Matsuura is supposed to have suggested that "Karafuto" meant "shrimp" (ebi) to Orok (Uilta) natives who thought the island was shaped like a prawn.

1869 "herring" theory

The linguist and lexicographer Otsuki Fumihiko (大槻文彦 1847-1928) is supposed to have written -- in Hokkaido fudoki (北海道風土記), a 1869 work about Hokkaido and associated islands -- that "kara" was dialect for "nishin" (鯡) and "futo" meant "many".

1869 "strait of gods" theory

The restorationist government that replaced the Tokugawa shogunate in Edo immediately began securing its control of Ezo and Karafuto. By the 6th month of the 4th year of Keio (July/August 1868), a month before Edo was renamed Tokyo (Keio 4-7-17, 1868-9-3) and three months before the reign year was changed to Meiji (Meiji 1-9-8, 1868-10-23), Okamoto Kansuke (岡本監輔 1839-1904) and other officials landed with some two hundred farmers at Kushunkotan (久春古丹 A. Kus-un-kotan, R. Korsakov, J. Ootomari) and set up a government office there.

Kushunkotan had become the port of entry to Karafuto. During the 17th century, the Matsumae domain had established a flourishing trading post there. In 1907, after the Russo-Japanese War, the office of the first government-general was established there before moving north to Toyohara (R. Vladimirovka, R. Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk) in 1908.

Okamoto was instrumental in developing Karafuto and Chishima as frontier settlements. Nishimura Toshimitsu (西村利光), who accompanied Okamoto's party in 1868, is said to have attributed "karafuto" to the Ainu expression カモイ・カラ・ブト (kamoi kara buto) meaning 神の作った海峡 (kami no tsukutta kaikyo) or "strait made by gods". Supposedly this was the local Ainu name for what was later called the Soya Strait (宗谷海峡) between the northern periphery of Hokkaido and the southern tip of Karafuto. Supposedly "kamoi" (kamui) or "gods" was dropped as the expression became the appelation for the island.

Okamoto himself is said to have objected to Matsuura Takeshiro's proposal to write カラフト (karafuto) as 樺太. Okamoto seems to have feared that Japanese would read 樺太 as カバフト (kabafuto) and that カラ would be lost to future generations. He is said to have recommended that カラフト be written 柯太 (ka[ra]futo), in consideration of the Ainu belie that Hokkaido and Karafuto had once been a single island the gods had divided into two islands. Apparently he insisted on writing 柯太 on public documents during his period of service as the first governor of Karafuto, and 樺太 was used only after he left the post. (Source   This paragraph is based on an account posted on the website of the virtual government of a virtual "Karafuto City" whose virtual mayor remains anonymous. Most of the other theories mentioned here are also reviewed on this site.)

Matsuura was right. Some people read 樺太 wrong. A postcard of 1920s-1930s vintage, published by Hokushindo, read 樺太土人風俗 オロッコの美人 (Karafuto dojin fuzoku Orokko no bijin) and "THE MANNERS OF KABAFUTO NATVES (sic)" in English. However, the HOKUSHINDO logo reads KARAFUTO. As the Japanese (but not the English) declares, the picture shows two Orok (Uilta) beauties, dressed as perhaps natives might then have dressed, and barefoot.

The foldout map in Report on Progress in Manchuria, 1907-1928 (Dairen, March 1929) -- which bears the date and attribution "11thFeb., 1928   Drawn by U. Utsumi" -- shows the name of the entity south of the 50th parallel as KABAFUTO in contrast with SAGHALIEN to the north. This has become KARAFUTO on essentially the same map in the 3rd edition (June, 1932).

Kojien, Japan's most widely used dictionary, includes an entry for かばふと (樺太 kabafuto), which sends the reader to からふと (樺太 karafuto). There is no entry for, nor mention of, 柯太 as a lexical item.

However, the graphs 柯太 in fact appear on maps and other materials published around the time of Okamoto's influence. Karafuto is variously referred to as as an island (柯太島 Karafutojima), a province (柯太州 Karafutoshu), and a country (柯太国 Karafuto no kuni). The graph 柯 is read "ka" in Sino-Japanese and "eda" in Japanese. It is a kind of tree but also means branch.

柯太州 was the appelation in editions of government approved geography texts and gazetteers like Nihon chishi ryaku (日本地誌略) published as late as 1887.

Wikipedia "river mouth" theory

The current Japanese Wikipedia story (viewed 8 April 2007) is that "karafuto" reflects "kar put" in the Ainu expression "kamuy kar put ya mosir" meaning "神が河口に造った島" (kami ga kawaguchi/kako ni tsukutta shima) or "island (mosir) of/at (ya) river's mouth (put) [that] gods (kamuy) made (kar)". This version has been translated into Chinese as 神在河口創造的島 (shen2 zai4 he2kou3 chuang4zao4 de dao3) or "island gods made in/at river's mouth".

The current English Wikipedia story (viewed 8 April 2007) states that Karafuto comes from "Kamuy-Kara-Puto-Ya-Mosir (Kara Puto)" which is supposed to mean ""God of mouth of water land". The entry goes on to say "The name was restored to the island by the Japanese during their possession of its southern part (1905-1945)" -- which is clearly not correct.

The island of Sakhalin does in fact descend south from where the Amur river (黒竜江 Heilongjiang) empties into the narrow Tartary Strait (J. Mamiya Strait), which separates Sakhalin from the continent while connecting the Sea of Okhotsk to the north with the Sea of Japan (K. Eastern Sea) to the south. The explorer Mamiya Rinzo (1780-1844) is credited with "discovering" the strait -- proving that Karafuto was an island -- during a survey of the region in 1808 and 1809.

Such attempts to make "Ainu sense" out of "karafuto" have spawned all manner of constructions -- like the rendering of 樺太庁 (Karafutocho) by a blogger as "Kamuy kar put ya mosir kotan" -- kotan meaning "village" or "settlement". While highly probably that "karafuto" does have native origins, its origins have yet to be firmly established.