Prefectures of Japan

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Regions and Prefectures of Japan 2.svg
Category Unitary State
Location Japan
Number 47
Populations 584,982 (Tottori) – 12,059,237 (Tōkyō)
Areas 1,861.7 square kilometres (718.8 sq mi) (Kagawa) – 83,453.6 square kilometres (32,221.6 sq mi) (Hokkaido)
Government Prefecture Government, Central Government
Subdivisions Districts

Japan's 47 prefectures form the country's first jurisdiction and administrative division levels. They consist of 43 prefectures ( ken?) proper, two urban prefectures ( fu ?, Osaka, and Kyoto), one "circuit" or "territory" ( ?, Hokkaido) and one "metropolis" ( to ?, Tokyo). The Meiji Fuhanken sanchisei administration created the first prefectures to replace the provinces of Japan in 1868.[1]

Each prefecture's chief executive is a directly-elected governor (知事 chiji?). Ordinances and budgets are enacted by a unicameral assembly (議会 gikai?) whose members are elected for four-year terms.

Under the current Local Autonomy Law, each prefecture is subdivided into cities ( shi?) and districts ( gun?) and each district into towns ( chō/machi?) and villages ( son/mura?). For example, Hokkaido has 14 subprefectures that act as branch offices (支庁 shichō?) of the prefecture. Some other prefectures also have branch offices that carry out prefectural administrative functions outside the capital. Tokyo, the capital, is a merged city-prefecture; it has features of both cities and prefectures.


Administrative divisions
of Japan

The West's use of "prefecture" to label these Japanese regions stems from 16th-century Portuguese explorers' and traders' use of "prefeitura" to describe the fiefdoms they encountered there. Its original sense in Portuguese, however, was closer to "municipality" than "province". (Today, in turn, Japan uses its word ken (), meaning "prefecture", to identify Portuguese districts while in Brazil the word "Prefeitura" is used to refer to a City Hall.)

Those fiefs were headed by a local warlord or family. Though the fiefs have long since been dismantled, merged, and reorganized multiple times, and been granted legislative governance and oversight, the rough translation stuck.

The Meiji government established the current system in July 1871 with the abolition of the han system and establishment of the prefecture system (廃藩置県 haihan-chiken). Although there were initially over 300 prefectures, many of them being former han territories, this number was reduced to 72 in the latter part of 1871, and 47 in 1888. The Local Autonomy Law of 1947 gave more political power to prefectures, and installed prefectural governors and parliaments.

In 2003, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed that the government consolidate the current prefectures into about 10 regional states. The plan called for each region to have greater autonomy than existing prefectures. This process would reduce the number of sub-prefecture administrative regions and cut administrative costs.[2] The Japanese government is also considering a plan to merge several groups of prefectures, creating a sub-national administrative division system consisting of between nine and 13 states, and giving these states more local autonomy than the prefectures currently enjoy.[3] As of August 2012, no reorganization has been scheduled.


Japan is a unitary state. The central government delegates many functions (such as education and the police force) to the prefectures and municipalities, but retains the overall right to control them. Although local government expenditure accounts for 70 percent of overall government expenditure, the central government controls local budgets, tax rates, and borrowing. Fiscal transfers, directed by the central government, account for around one-third of local government revenue.[4]

Types of prefecture[edit]

Historically, during the Edo period, the Tokugawa shogunate established bugyō-ruled zones (奉行支配地) around the nine largest cities in Japan, and 302 township-ruled zones (郡代支配地) elsewhere. When the Meiji government began to create the prefectural system in 1868, the nine bugyō-ruled zones became fu (府), while the township-ruled zones and the rest of the bugyo-ruled zones became ken (県). Later, in 1871, the government designated Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto as fu, and relegated the other fu to the status of ken. During World War II, in 1943, Tokyo became a to, a new type of pseudo-prefecture.

Despite the differences in terminology, there is little functional difference between the four types of local governments. The sub-national governments are sometimes collectively referred to as to-dō-fu-ken (都道府県?) in Japanese, which is a simple combination of the four terms.


Tokyo is referred to as to (都), which is often translated as "metropolis." The Japanese government translates Tōkyō-to as "Tokyo Metropolis" in almost all cases, and the government is officially called the "Tokyo Metropolitan Government". But there are some people who call Tōkyō-to "Tokyo Prefecture" in English.

Following the abolition of the han system, Tōkyō-fu (an urban prefecture like Kyoto and Osaka) encompassed a number of cities, the largest of which was Tokyo City. Tokyo City was divided into 15 wards. In 1943, Tokyo City was abolished, Tōkyō-fu became Tōkyō-to, and Tokyo's wards became the special wards, local authorities falling directly under the prefecture in hierarchy, each with their own elected assemblies (kugikai) and mayors (kuchō). A number of suburban villages and towns were converted to wards, bringing the total number of special wards to 35. The reorganization's aim was to consolidate the administration of the area around the capital by eliminating the extra level of authority in Tokyo. The central government wanted to have greater control over Tokyo due to Japan's deteriorating position in World War II and the possibility of emergency in the metropolis.

After the war, Japan was forced to decentralize Tokyo again, following the general terms of democratization outlined in the Potsdam Declaration. Many of Tokyo's special governmental characteristics disappeared during this time, and the wards took on an increasingly municipal status in the decades following the surrender. Administratively, today's special wards are almost indistinguishable from other municipalities.

The postwar reforms also changed the map of Tokyo significantly: In 1947, the 35 wards were reorganized into the 23 special wards, because[citation needed] many of its citizens had either died during the war, left the city, or been drafted and didn't return.

There are some differences in terminology between Tokyo and other prefectures: police and fire departments are called chō (庁) instead of honbu (本部), for instance. But the only functional difference between Tōkyō-to and other prefectures is that Tokyo administers wards as well as cities. Today, since the special wards have almost the same degree of independence as Japanese cities, the difference in administration between Tokyo and other prefectures is fairly minor.

In Osaka, several prominent politicians led by Tōru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka City and former governor of Osaka Prefecture, are currently proposing an Osaka Metropolis plan, under which Osaka City, and possibly other neighboring cities, would be replaced by special wards similar to Tokyo's.


Hokkaido is referred to as a (道) or circuit. This term was originally used to refer to Japanese regions consisting of several provinces (e.g. the Tōkaidō east-coast region, and Saikaidō west-coast region). This was also a historical usage of the character in China. (In Korea this historical usage is still used today and was kept during the period of Japanese rule.)

Hokkaido, the only remaining today, was not one of the original seven (it was known as Ezo in the pre-modern era). Its current name is believed to originate from Matsuura Takeshiro, an early Japanese explorer of the island. Since Hokkaido did not fit into the existing classifications, a new was created to cover it.

The Meiji government originally classified Hokkaido as a "Settlement Envoyship" (開拓使 kaitakushi), and later divided the island into three prefectures (Sapporo, Hakodate, and Nemuro). These were consolidated into a single Hokkaido Department (北海道庁 Hokkaido-chō) in 1886, at prefectural level but organized more along the lines of a territory. In 1947, the department was dissolved, and Hokkaido became a full-fledged prefecture. The -ken suffix was never added to its name, so the -dō suffix came to be understood to mean "prefecture."

When Hokkaido was incorporated, transportation on the island was still underdeveloped, so the prefecture was split into several "sub-prefectures" (支庁 shichō) that could fulfill administrative duties of the prefectural government and keep tight control over the developing island. These sub-prefectures still exist today, although they have much less power than they possessed before and during World War II: they now exist primarily to handle paperwork and other bureaucratic functions.

"Hokkaido Prefecture" is, technically speaking, a redundant term, although it is occasionally used to differentiate the government from the island itself. The prefecture's government calls itself the "Hokkaido Government" rather than the "Hokkaido Prefectural Government".


Osaka and Kyoto Prefectures are referred to as fu (府). The Classical Chinese character from which this is derived implies a core urban zone of national importance. Before World War II, different laws applied to fu and ken, but this distinction was abolished after the war, and the two types of prefecture are now functionally the same.


43 of the 47 prefectures are referred to as ken (県). The Classical Chinese character from which this is derived carries a rural or provincial connotation, and an analogous character is used to refer to the counties of China and counties of Taiwan and districts of Vietnam.

Lists of prefectures[edit]

The different systems of parsing frame the ways in which Japanese prefectures are perceived:

By Japanese ISO[edit]

The prefectures are also often grouped into eight regions (Chihō). Those regions are not formally specified, they do not have elected officials, nor are they corporate bodies. But the practice of ordering prefectures based on their geographic region is traditional.[1] This ordering is mirrored in Japan's International Organization for Standardization (ISO) coding.[5] From north to south (numbering in ISO 3166-2:JP order), the prefectures of Japan and their commonly associated regions are:

Hokkaido Tōhoku Kantō Chūbu Kansai Chūgoku Shikoku Kyushu

1. Hokkaidō

2. Aomori
3. Iwate
4. Miyagi
5. Akita
6. Yamagata
7. Fukushima

8. Ibaraki
9. Tochigi
10. Gunma
11. Saitama
12. Chiba
13. Tōkyō
14. Kanagawa

15. Niigata
16. Toyama
17. Ishikawa
18. Fukui
19. Yamanashi
20. Nagano
21. Gifu
22. Shizuoka
23. Aichi

24. Mie
25. Shiga
26. Kyōto
27. Ōsaka
28. Hyōgo
29. Nara
30. Wakayama

31. Tottori
32. Shimane
33. Okayama
34. Hiroshima
35. Yamaguchi

36. Tokushima
37. Kagawa
38. Ehime
39. Kōchi

40. Fukuoka
41. Saga
42. Nagasaki
43. Kumamoto
44. Ōita
45. Miyazaki
46. Kagoshima 47. Okinawa

By English name[edit]

The default alphabetic order in this sortable table can be altered to mirror the traditional Japanese regions and ISO parsing.
Prefecture Kanji Capital Region Major Island Population¹ Area² Density³ Distr. Municip. ISO
 Aichi 愛知県 Nagoya Chūbu Honshū 7,043,235 5,153.81 1,366 7 54 JP-23
 Akita 秋田県 Akita Tōhoku Honshū 1,189,215 11,612.11 102 6 25 JP-05
 Aomori 青森県 Aomori Tōhoku Honshū 1,475,635 9,606.26 154 8 40 JP-02
 Chiba 千葉県 Chiba Kantō Honshū 5,926,349 5,156.15 1,149 6 54 JP-12
 Ehime 愛媛県 Matsuyama Shikoku Shikoku 1,493,126 5,676.44 263 7 20 JP-38
 Fukui 福井県 Fukui Chūbu Honshū 828,960 4,188.76 198 7 17 JP-18
 Fukuoka 福岡県 Fukuoka Kyūshū Kyūshū 5,015,666 4,971.01 1,009 12 60 JP-40
 Fukushima 福島県 Fukushima Tōhoku Honshū 2,126,998 13,782.54 154 13 59 JP-07
 Gifu 岐阜県 Gifu Chūbu Honshū 2,107,687 10,598.18 199 9 42 JP-21
 Gunma 群馬県 Maebashi Kantō Honshū 2,024,820 6,363.16 318 7 35 JP-10
 Hiroshima 広島県 Hiroshima Chūgoku Honshū 2,878,949 8,476.95 340 5 23 JP-34
 Hokkaidō 北海道 Sapporo Hokkaidō Hokkaidō 5,682,950 83,452.47 68 66 180 JP-01
 Hyōgo 兵庫県 Kōbe Kansai Honshū 5,550,742 8,392.42 661 8 41 JP-28
 Ibaraki 茨城県 Mito Kantō Honshū 2,985,424 6,095.62 490 7 44 JP-08
 Ishikawa 石川県 Kanazawa Chūbu Honshū 1,180,935 4,185.32 282 5 19 JP-17
 Iwate 岩手県 Morioka Tōhoku Honshū 1,416,198 15,278.51 93 10 33 JP-03
 Kagawa 香川県 Takamatsu Shikoku Shikoku 1,022,843 1,861.70 549 5 17 JP-37
 Kagoshima 鹿児島県 Kagoshima Kyūshū Kyūshū 1,786,214 9,132.42 196 8 43 JP-46
 Kanagawa 神奈川県 Yokohama Kantō Honshū 8,489,932 2,415.42 3,515 6 33 JP-14
Kochi Kōchi 高知県 KochiKōchi Shikoku Shikoku 813,980 7,104.70 115 6 34 JP-39
 Kumamoto 熊本県 Kumamoto Kyūshū Kyūshū 1,859,451 6,908.45 269 9 45 JP-43
 Kyōto 京都府 Kyoto Kansai Honshū 2,644,331 4,612.93 573 6 26 JP-26
 Mie 三重県 Tsu Kansai Honshū 1,857,365 5,760.72 322 7 29 JP-24
 Miyagi 宮城県 Sendai Tōhoku Honshū 2,365,204 7,285.16 325 10 35 JP-04
 Miyazaki 宮崎県 Miyazaki Kyūshū Kyūshū 1,170,023 6,684.67 175 6 26 JP-45
 Nagano 長野県 Nagano Chūbu Honshū 2,214,409 12,598.48 163 14 77 JP-20
 Nagasaki 長崎県 Nagasaki Kyūshū Kyūshū 1,516,536 4,092.80 371 4 21 JP-42
 Nara 奈良県 Nara Kansai Honshū 1,442,862 3,691.09 391 7 39 JP-29
 Niigata 新潟県 Niigata Chūbu Honshū 2,475,724 12,582.37 197 9 30 JP-15
Oita Ōita 大分県 OitaŌita Kyūshū Kyūshū 1,221,128 5,804.24 210 3 18 JP-44
 Okayama 岡山県 Okayama Chūgoku Honshū 1,950,656 7,008.63 278 10 27 JP-33
 Okinawa 沖縄県 Naha Kyūshū Ryūkyū Islands 1,318,281 2,271.30 580 5 41 JP-47
Osaka Ōsaka 大阪府 Ōsaka Kansai Honshū 8,804,806 1,893.18 4,652 5 43 JP-27
 Saga 佐賀県 Saga Kyūshū Kyūshū 876,664 2,439.23 359 6 20 JP-41
 Saitama 埼玉県 Saitama Kantō Honshū 6,938,004 3,767.09 1,827 8 63 JP-11
 Shiga 滋賀県 Ōtsu Kansai Honshū 1,342,811 4,017.36 334 3 19 JP-25
 Shimane 島根県 Matsue Chūgoku Honshū 761,499 6,707.32 114 5 19 JP-32
 Shizuoka 静岡県 Shizuoka Chūbu Honshū 3,767,427 7,328.61 484 5 35 JP-22
 Tochigi 栃木県 Utsunomiya Kantō Honshū 2,004,787 6,408.28 313 5 26 JP-09
 Tokushima 徳島県 Tokushima Shikoku Shikoku 823,997 4,145.26 199 8 24 JP-36
 Tōkyō 東京都 Tōkyō[6] Kantō Honshū 12,059,237 2,187.08 5,514 1 39 JP-13
 Tottori 鳥取県 Tottori Chūgoku Honshū 613,229 3,507.19 175 5 19 JP-31
 Toyama 富山県 Toyama Chūbu Honshū 1,120,843 4,247.22 264 2 15 JP-16
 Wakayama 和歌山県 Wakayama Kansai Honshū 1,069,839 4,725.55 226 6 30 JP-30
 Yamagata 山形県 Yamagata Tōhoku Honshū 1,244,040 9,323.34 133 8 35 JP-06
 Yamaguchi 山口県 Yamaguchi Chūgoku Honshū 1,528,107 6,110.76 250 4 19 JP-35
 Yamanashi 山梨県 Kōfu Chūbu Honshū 888,170 4,465.37 199 5 27 JP-19

Notes: ¹ as of 2000; ² km²; ³ per km²

Former prefectures[edit]

Territories lost after World War II[edit]

Prefecture Japanese Capital Present name Present name of capital
To Soviet Union Soviet Union / Russia Russia (chō)
Karafuto 樺太庁 Toyohara Sakhalin Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
To Taiwan Republic of China / Taiwan (shū and chō)
Hōko 澎湖庁 Makō Penghu Magong
Karenkō 花蓮港庁 Karenkō Hualien Hualien
Shinchiku 新竹州 Shinchiku Hsinchu Hsinchu
Taichū 台中州 Taichū Taichung Taichung
Taihoku 台北州 Taihoku Taipei Taipei
Tainan 台南州 Tainan Tainan Tainan
Taitō 台東庁 Taitō Taitung Taitung
Takao 高雄州 Takao Kaohsiung Kaohsiung
To North Korea North Korea ()
Heian-hoku 平安北道 Shingishū North Pyongan Sinuiju
Heian-nan 平安南道 Heijō South Pyongan Pyongyang
Kankyō-hoku 咸鏡北道 Ranan North Hamgyong Ranam
Kankyō-nan 咸鏡南道 Kankō South Hamgyong Hamhung
Kōgen[note] 江原道 Shunsen Kangwon Chuncheon
Kōkai 黃海道 Kaishū Hwanghae Haeju
To South Korea South Korea ()
Chūsei-hoku 忠清北道 Seishū North Chungcheong Cheongju
Chūsei-nan 忠清南道 Taiden South Chungcheong Daejeon
Keiki[note] 京畿道 Keijō Gyeonggi Seoul
Keishō-hoku 慶尚北道 Taikyū North Gyeongsang Daegu
Keishō-nan 慶尚南道 Fusan South Gyeongsang Busan
Kōgen[note] 江原道 Shunsen Gangwon Chuncheon
Zenra-hoku 全羅北道 Zenshū North Jeolla Jeonju
Zenra-nan 全羅南道 Kōshū South Jeolla Gwangju
To United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (chō)
Nan'yō 南洋庁 Korōru Palau Palau Koror
Marshall Islands Marshall Islands Majuro
Federated States of Micronesia Federated States of Micronesia Palikir
Northern Mariana Islands Northern Mariana Islands (United States United States) Saipan

Note: Due to the division of Korea, Kōgen (Kangwon/Gangwon) and Keiki (Gyeonggi) are divided between North Korea and South Korea. While each Korea has its own Kangwon/Gangwon Province, the North Korean portion of Gyeonggi has been absorbed into other provinces.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric, 2002: "Provinces and prefectures" in Japan encyclopedia, p. 780.
  2. ^ Mabuchi, Masaru, "Municipal Amalgamation in Japan", World Bank, 2001.
  3. ^ "Doshusei Regional System" National Association for Research Advancement.
  4. ^ Mochida, "Local Government Organization and Finance: Japan", in Shah, Anwar (2006). Local Governance in Industrial Countries. World Bank. 
  5. ^ See ISO 3166
  6. ^ 都庁の所在地 Shinjuku is the location of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office.But Tokyo is not a "municipality".Therefore, for the sake of convenience, the notation of prefectural is "Tokyo".

External links[edit]