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For subsequent types of praefectura, see Prefect.
Prefecture (from the Latin Praefectura) indicates the office, seat, territorial circumscription of a Prefect. The term prefecture is also used to refer to offices analogous to prefectures.

Literal prefectures


It has been used most prominently to denote a somewhat self-governing body or area since the tetrarchy, when emperor Diocletian divided the Roman Empire into four districts (each divided into dioceses, grouping under a Vicarius a number of Roman provinces, listed under that article), although he maintained two pretorian prefectures as an administrative level above the also surviving dioceses (a few of which were split).


As Canon law is strongly inspired by Roman law, it is not surprising that the Catholic Church has several offices under a prefect. That term occurs also in otherwise styled offices, such as the head of a congregation or department of the Roman Curia. Various ecclesiastical areas, too small for a diocese, are termed prefects.

French préfecture

In Francemarker, a préfecture is the capital city of a département. As there are 100 départements in France, there are 100 préfectures in France. A préfecture de région is the capital city of a région.

Analogous prefectures

Brazilian equivalent of prefecture

In Brazilmarker, the prefecture (prefeitura in Portuguese) is the City Hall, home to the Executive of a city and to the mayor's office.

Greek equivalent of prefecture

Modern Greecemarker, under its 1975 Constitution, is divided into 51 nomoi ( ) which form the units of local government. These are most commonly translated into English as prefectures.

Each nomos is headed by a prefect (nomarch), who was until recently a ministerial appointee but is nowadays elected by direct popular vote. Municipal elections in Greece are held every four years and voting for the election of nomarchs and mayors is carried out concurrently but with separate ballots.

Chinese equivalents of prefecture

The ancient sense

Xian (县/縣)

When used in the context of Chinese history, especially China before the Tang Dynasty, the word "prefecture" is used to translate xian (县/縣). This unit of administration is translated as "county" when used in a contemporary context.


In the context of Chinese history during or after the Tang Dynasty, the word "prefecture" is used to translate zhou (州), another ancient unit of administration in China.

The modern sense

In modern-day People's Republic of Chinamarker, the prefecture (地区; pinyin: dìqū) is an administrative division found in the second level of the administrative hierarchy. In addition to prefectures, this level also includes autonomous prefectures, leagues, and prefecture-level cities. The prefecture level comes under the province level, and in turn oversees the county level.

Japanese sense of prefecture

In reference to the Japanesemarker system of administrative subdivisions, prefecture is used as the translation for . The system of local government in Japan consists of two classes: prefectures as the large-area local governing units, and municipalities (市町村) as the basic local-level governing units.

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, and each is further divided into municipalities. These prefectures and municipalities neither overlap geographically nor leave any area uncovered; all residents of Japan are therefore residents of one municipality and one prefecture. The prefecture plays a sufficiently large role in personal identity that Japanese introducing themselves often mention their prefecture of origin as well as (or instead of) their municipality.

The prefectures and municipalities function as more than just the country’s administrative units: they are incorporated bodies—independent from the national government—that possess their own basic spheres of responsibility and local residents as their constituents, holding administrative authority within their respective geographical boundaries. In Hokkaidōmarker and several other prefectures, subprefecture are used as special administrative units, due to peculiarities of governmental evolution and the difficulty in centrally governing certain geographically large or remote areas.

All but four prefectures are followed with the suffix -ken (県), as in Kanagawa-ken, which is rendered in English as Kanagawa Prefecturemarker. The large-area governing units of Ōsaka and Kyōto are both referred to as -fu (府) (Ōsaka-fu and Kyōto-fu, respectively), but this term is also translated as prefecture. There are two government units that are not technically referred to as prefectures. Tokyo’s prefecture-level government and its area is followed by -to (都, literally, capital), and whose government calls itself the "Tōkyō Metropolitan Government" in English. Finally, Hokkaidō’s -dō (道) is a suffix for an ancient region name, even though it was so named in 1869. Hokkaidō’s government calls itself the "Hokkaidō Government" in English.

Below the level of prefecture are -shi (市) cities, -chō or machi (both 町) towns, and -son or mura (both 村) villages. Additionally, cities may be subdivided into -ku (区) wards.

Japan’s current prefectural system was established in the Meiji era after the new Meiji government abolished fiefs run by feudal clans known as han. This change is called the abolition of the han system; see Meiji Restoration in the History of Japan article, and the Meiji era article for more historical details of this event.

Mongolian equivalent

Mongolian prefectures (Aimags) were adopted under the Manchu Empiremarker. Today these are usually translated as "provinces".

Venezuelan equivalent

Traditionally the prefecture as being the City Hall and the prefect as being the equivalent of a mayor and commissioner until recently; now the prefectures and prefect are analogous with the figure of Town Clerk.

Moscow, Russia

See also

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