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 km2 (718.8 sq mi) (Kagawa) – 83,453.6 km2 (32,221.6 sq mi) (Hokkaido)
Government Prefecture Government, Central Government
Subdivisions Districts

The Prefectures of Japan (都道府県?, Todōfuken) consist of 47 prefectures. They form the first level of jurisdiction and administrative division of Japan. 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). Hokkaido has 14 subprefectures that act as branch offices (総合振興局?, sōgō-shinkō-kyoku) and branch offices (振興局?, shinkō-kyoku) of the prefecture. Some other prefectures also have branch offices that carry out prefectural administrative functions outside the capital. Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is a merged city-prefecture; a metropolis, 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.[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 (?), while the township-ruled zones and the rest of the bugyo-ruled zones became ken (?). 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 (?), 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 post-war reforms also changed the map of Tokyo significantly: In 1947, the 35 wards were reorganized into the 23 special wards, because many of its citizens had either died during the war, left the city, or been drafted and didn't return.[citation needed]

There are some differences in terminology between Tokyo and other prefectures: police and fire departments are called chō (?) 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 (?) or circuit. This term was originally used to refer to Japanese regions consisting of several provinces (e.g. the Tōkaidō east-coast region, and Saikaido 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 (?). 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 (?). 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, 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:

Hokkaidō Tōhoku Kantō Chūbu Kansai Chūgoku Shikoku Kyūshū

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 Honshu 7,484,094 5,172.4 1,446.9 7 54 JP-23
 Akita 秋田県 Akita Tōhoku Honshu 1,022,839 11,637.54 87.9 6 25 JP-05
 Aomori 青森県 Aomori Tōhoku Honshu 1,308,649 9,645.4 135.7 8 40 JP-02
 Chiba 千葉県 Chiba Kantō Honshu 6,224,027 5,157.64 1,206.8 6 54 JP-12
 Ehime 愛媛県 Matsuyama Shikoku Shikoku 1,385,840 5,676.1 244.2 7 20 JP-38
 Fukui 福井県 Fukui Chūbu Honshu 787,099 4,190.43 187.8 7 17 JP-18
 Fukuoka 福岡県 Fukuoka Kyushu Kyushu 5,102,871 4,986.4 1,023.4 12 60 JP-40
 Fukushima 福島県 Fukushima Tōhoku Honshu 1,913,606 13,783.75 138.8 13 59 JP-07
 Gifu 岐阜県 Gifu Chūbu Honshu 2,032,533 10,621.29 191.4 9 42 JP-21
 Gunma 群馬県 Maebashi Kantō Honshu 1,973,476 6,362.28 310.2 7 35 JP-10
 Hiroshima 広島県 Hiroshima Chūgoku Honshu 2,844,963 8,479.38 335.5 5 23 JP-34
 Hokkaido 北海道 Sapporo Hokkaido Hokkaido 5,383,579 83,424.22 68.6 66 180 JP-01
 Hyōgo 兵庫県 Kōbe Kansai Honshu 5,536,989 8,400.9 659.1 8 41 JP-28
 Ibaraki 茨城県 Mito Kantō Honshu 2,917,857 6,096.93 478.6 7 44 JP-08
 Ishikawa 石川県 Kanazawa Chūbu Honshu 1,154,343 4,186.15 275.8 5 19 JP-17
 Iwate 岩手県 Morioka Tōhoku Honshu 1,279,814 15,275.01 83.8 10 33 JP-03
 Kagawa 香川県 Takamatsu Shikoku Shikoku 976,756 1,876.73 520.5 5 17 JP-37
 Kagoshima 鹿児島県 Kagoshima Kyushu Kyushu 1,648,752 9,188.1 179.4 8 43 JP-46
 Kanagawa 神奈川県 Yokohama Kantō Honshu 9,127,323 2,415.81 3,778.2 6 33 JP-14
Kochi Kōchi 高知県 KochiKōchi Shikoku Shikoku 728,461 7,103.91 102.5 6 34 JP-39
 Kumamoto 熊本県 Kumamoto Kyushu Kyushu 1,786,969 7,409.32 241.2 9 45 JP-43
 Kyoto 京都府 Kyoto Kansai Honshu 2,610,140 4,612.2 565.9 6 26 JP-26
 Mie 三重県 Tsu Kansai Honshu 1,815,827 5,774.39 314.5 7 29 JP-24
 Miyagi 宮城県 Sendai Tōhoku Honshu 2,334,215 7,282.14 320.5 10 35 JP-04
 Miyazaki 宮崎県 Miyazaki Kyushu Kyushu 1,104,377 7,735.31 142.8 6 26 JP-45
 Nagano 長野県 Nagano Chūbu Honshu 2,099,759 13,561.56 154.8 14 77 JP-20
 Nagasaki 長崎県 Nagasaki Kyushu Kyushu 1,377,780 4,132.32 333.4 4 21 JP-42
 Nara 奈良県 Nara Kansai Honshu 1,365,008 3,690.94 369.8 7 39 JP-29
 Niigata 新潟県 Niigata Chūbu Honshu 2,305,098 12,584.1 183.2 9 30 JP-15
Oita Ōita 大分県 OitaŌita Kyushu Kyushu 1,166,729 6,340.61 184 3 18 JP-44
 Okayama 岡山県 Okayama Chūgoku Honshu 1,922,181 7,114.62 270.2 10 27 JP-33
 Okinawa 沖縄県 Naha Kyushu Ryukyu Islands 1,434,138 2,281 628.7 5 41 JP-47
Osaka Osaka 大阪府 Ōsaka Kansai Honshu 8,838,908 1,904.99 4,639.9 5 43 JP-27
 Saga 佐賀県 Saga Kyushu Kyushu 833,245 2,440.64 341.4 6 20 JP-41
 Saitama 埼玉県 Saitama Kantō Honshu 7,261,271 3,797.75 1,912 8 63 JP-11
 Shiga 滋賀県 Ōtsu Kansai Honshu 1,413,184 4,017.38 351.8 3 19 JP-25
 Shimane 島根県 Matsue Chūgoku Honshu 694,188 6,708.23 103.5 5 19 JP-32
 Shizuoka 静岡県 Shizuoka Chūbu Honshu 3,701,181 7,778.7 475.8 5 35 JP-22
 Tochigi 栃木県 Utsunomiya Kantō Honshu 1,974,671 6,408.09 308.2 5 26 JP-09
 Tokushima 徳島県 Tokushima Shikoku Shikoku 756,063 4,146.93 182.3 8 24 JP-36
 Tokyo 東京都 Tokyo[6] Kantō Honshu 13,513,734 2,190.9 6,168.1 1 39 JP-13
 Tottori 鳥取県 Tottori Chūgoku Honshu 573,648 3,507.05 163.6 5 19 JP-31
 Toyama 富山県 Toyama Chūbu Honshu 1,066,883 4,247.61 251.2 2 15 JP-16
 Wakayama 和歌山県 Wakayama Kansai Honshu 963,850 4,724.68 204 6 30 JP-30
 Yamagata 山形県 Yamagata Tōhoku Honshu 1,122,957 9,323.15 120.4 8 35 JP-06
 Yamaguchi 山口県 Yamaguchi Chūgoku Honshu 1,405,007 6,112.3 229.9 4 19 JP-35
 Yamanashi 山梨県 Kōfu Chūbu Honshu 835,165 4,464.99 187 5 27 JP-19

Notes: ¹ as of 2015; ² km²; ³ per km²

Former prefectures[edit]


See this Japanese Wikipedia article for all the changes back then.


Prefecture Japanese Year of Abolishment Fate
Kanazawa 金沢県 1869 Renamed as Ishikawa
Sendai 仙台県 1871 Renamed as Miyagi
Morioka 盛岡県 1872 Renamed as Iwate
Nagoya 名古屋県 1872 Renamed as Aichi
Nukata 額田県 1872 Merged into Aichi
Nanao 七尾県 1872 Merged into Ishikawa and Shinkawa
Iruma 入間県 1973 Merged into Kumagaya and Kanagawa
Inba 印旛県 1873 Merged into Chiba
Kisarazu 木更津県 1873 Merged into Chiba
Utsunomiya 宇都宮県 1873 Merged into Tochigi
Asuwa 足羽県 1873 Merged into Tsuruga
Kashiwazaki 柏崎県 1873 Merged into Niigata
Ichinoseki→Mizusawa→Iwai 一関県→水沢県→磐井県 1875 Merged into Iwate and Miyagi
Okitama 置賜県 1875 Merged into Yamagata
Shinji 新治県 1875 Merged into Ibaraki and Chiba
Sakata→Tsuruoka 酒田県→鶴岡県 1876 Merged into Yamagata
Taira→Iwasaki 平県→磐前県 1876 Merged into Fukushima and Miyagi
Wakamatsu 若松県 1876 Merged into Fukushima
Tsukama 筑摩県 1876 Merged into Nagano and Gifu
Tsuruga 敦賀県 1876 Merged into Ishikawa and Shiga
Shinkawa 新川県 1876 Merged into Ishikawa
Sakai 堺県 1881 Merged into Osaka
Ashigara 足柄県 1876 Merged into Kanagawa and Shizuoka
Kumagaya 熊谷県 1876 Merged into Gunma and Saitama
Aikawa 相川県 1876 Merged into Niigata
Hamamatsu 浜松県 1876 Merged into Shizuoka
Hakodate 函館県 1886 Merged into Hokkaido
Sapporo 札幌県 1886 Merged into Hokkaido
Nemuro 根室県 1886 Merged into Hokkaido
Tokyo 東京府 1943 Reorganized as Tokyo Metropolis (東京都)

Territories lost after World War II[edit]

Territory Prefecture Allied occupation Present status
Name Japanese Capital Country Name Capital
Mainland Okinawa 沖縄県 Naha  United States[7]  Japan Okinawa Naha
Karafuto 樺太庁 Toyohara  Soviet Union  Russia Sakhalin Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk
Korea Heian-hoku 平安北道 Shingishū  Soviet Union  North Korea 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
Chūsei-hoku 忠清北道 Seishū  United States  South Korea 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
Taiwan Hōko 澎湖庁 Makō  China  Taiwan 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
Kantō[8] 関東州 Dairen  Soviet Union[9]  China part of Dalian
Nan'yō 南洋庁 Korōru  United States[10] Palau Palau Koror
Marshall Islands Marshall Islands Majuro
Federated States of Micronesia Federated States of Micronesia Palikir
 United States Northern Mariana Islands Northern Mariana Islands 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".
  7. ^ Administrated by the United States Military Government of the Ryukyu Islands. Returned to Japan in 1972
  8. ^ Leased from Manchukuo.
  9. ^ After World War II, the Soviet Union occupied the territory. The Soviet Union turned it over to the People's Republic of China in 1955.
  10. ^ Then administrated by the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands

External links[edit]