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The prefectures of Japanmarker are the country's 47 sub-national jurisdictions: one "metropolis" (都 to), Tokyomarker; one "circuit" (道 ), Hokkaidōmarker; two urban prefectures (府 fu), Osakamarker and Kyotomarker; and 43 other prefectures (県 ken). In Japanese, they are commonly referred to as . Prefectures are governmental bodies larger than cities, towns, and villages.

The chief executive of each prefecture is a directly-elected . Ordinances and budgets are enacted by a single-chamber whose elected members serve four-year terms.

Under the current Local Autonomy Law, each prefecture is further subdivided into cities (市 shi) and districts (郡 gun). Each district is further subdivided into towns (町 chō or machi) and villages (村 son or mura). For example, Hokkaidō has 14 subprefectures which act as branch offices (支庁 shichō) of the prefecture. Some other prefectures also have branch offices, which carry out prefectural administrative functions outside the capital.

Historical background

The current system was established by the Meiji government 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. The Japanese government is also considering a plan by which several groups of prefectures would merge, creating a sub-national administrative division system consisting of between nine and thirteen states, and giving these states more local autonomy than the current prefectures enjoy. As of September 2009, no reorganization has taken place.

Types of prefectures

To, , fu, and ken differ in name only for historical reasons. Since 1947, there is no administrative difference between the four types. Usually, prefectures are called by their name only, without the suffix, except for Hokkaidōmarker. However, the suffix is used when it is necessary to distinguish between the prefecture and a city of the same name. For example, Hiroshima-ken is the Japanese name of the prefecture, and Hiroshima-shi is its largest city.

Fu (Osaka/Kyoto) and Ken

During the Edo period, the bakufu 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 first year of Meiji period, while the nine bugyō-ruled zones became fu (府), the township-ruled zones and the rest of the bugyo-ruled zones became ken (県): later, in 1871 the government designated Tokyomarker, Osakamarker, and Kyotomarker 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 (see below).

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. As a result, the English language does not usually distinguish between fu and ken, calling both simply "prefectures".


The term (circuit) was originally used to refer to regions of Japan, such as Tōkaidō and Saikaidō, consisting of several provinces. It uses the kanji for "road" and is considered to have been settled by Emperor Temmu.

Hokkaidōmarker, 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 Hokkaidō did not fit into the existing classifications, a new was created to cover it.

The Meiji government originally classified Hokkaidō 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 Hokkaidō prefecture in 1886. The -ken suffix was never added to its name, so the -dō suffix came to be understood to mean "prefecture".

When Hokkaidō was incorporated, transportation on the island was still very 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.

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

The largest city and prefectural capital of Hokkaidō is Sapporo, the fifth largest city in Japan. Other major cities include Hakodate.


The only to in Japan is Tokyo. Following the abolition of the han system, Tokyo-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, Tokyo-fu became Tokyo-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 (kucho). A number of suburban villages and towns of Tokyo City were changed to wards, bringing the total number of special wards to 35.

The reason for this reorganization 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 a greater degree of 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 many had died in the bombardments during the war, many survivors had left the city, and many men who had been drafted had not returned.

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. However, the only functional difference between Tokyo-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 (see 23 special wards for details).

The Japanese government still translates Tokyo-to as "Tokyo Metropolis" in almost all cases, and the government is officially called the "Tokyo Metropolitan Government". However, some people still call Tokyo-to "Tokyo Prefecture" in English.

Lists of prefectures

List in ISO Order

The prefectures are also often grouped into regions. Those regions are not formally specified, they do not have elected officials, nor are they corporate bodies. However, the practice of ordering prefectures based on their geographic location is common. From north to south (numbering in ISO 3166-2:JP order), the prefectures of Japan and their commonly associated regions are:


1. Hokkaidōmarker


2. Aomorimarker

3. Iwatemarker

4. Miyagimarker

5. Akitamarker

6. Yamagatamarker

7. Fukushimamarker


8. Ibarakimarker

9. Tochigimarker

10. Gunmamarker

11. Saitamamarker

12. Chibamarker

13. Tokyomarker

14. Kanagawamarker


15. Niigatamarker

16. Toyamamarker

17. Ishikawamarker

18. Fukuimarker

19. Yamanashimarker

20. Naganomarker

21. Gifumarker

22. Shizuokamarker

23. Aichimarker


24. Miemarker

25. Shigamarker

26. Kyotomarker

27. Osakamarker

28. Hyōgomarker

29. Naramarker

30. Wakayamamarker


31. Tottorimarker

32. Shimanemarker

33. Okayamamarker

34. Hiroshimamarker

35. Yamaguchimarker


36. Tokushimamarker

37. Kagawamarker

38. Ehimemarker

39. Kōchimarker


40. Fukuokamarker

41. Sagamarker

42. Nagasakimarker

43. Kumamotomarker

44. Ōitamarker

45. Miyazakimarker

46. Kagoshimamarker

47. Okinawamarker

Karafuto, a portion of the island of Sakhalinmarker north of Hokkaidō (not shown on the map), was part of Japan from 1907 until World War II. The entire island is now governed by Russiamarker, but some Japanese people claim Karafuto is still part of Japan.

List in alphabetical order

Prefecture Japanese Capital
Islandmarker Population¹ Area² Density³ Distr. Municip. ISO
愛知県 Nagoya Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 7,043,235 5,153.81 1,366 15 88 JP-23
秋田県 Akita Tōhokumarker Honshūmarker 1,189,215 11,612.11 102 8 29 JP-05
青森県 Aomori Tōhokumarker Honshūmarker 1,475,635 9,606.26 154 8 61 JP-02
千葉県 Chiba Kantō Honshūmarker 5,926,349 5,156.15 1,149 9 80 JP-12
愛媛県 Matsuyama Shikokumarker Shikokumarker 1,493,126 5,676.44 263 7 28 JP-38
福井県 Fukui Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 828,960 4,188.76 198 10 29 JP-18
福岡県 Fukuoka Kyūshūmarker Kyūshūmarker 5,015,666 4,971.01 1,009 17 91 JP-40
福島県 Fukushima Tōhokumarker Honshūmarker 2,126,998 13,782.54 154 14 85 JP-07
岐阜県 Gifu Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 2,107,687 10,598.18 199 11 49 JP-21
群馬県 Maebashi Kantō Honshūmarker 2,024,820 6,363.16 318 12 61 JP-10
広島県 Hiroshima Chūgokumarker Honshūmarker 2,878,949 8,476.95 340 10 37 JP-34
北海道 Sapporo Hokkaidōmarker Hokkaidōmarker 5,682,950 83,452.47 68 66 207 JP-01
兵庫県 Kobe Kansaimarker Honshūmarker 5,550,742 8,392.42 661 13 60 JP-28
茨城県 Mito Kantō Honshūmarker 2,985,424 6,095.62 490 13 61 JP-08
石川県 Kanazawa Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 1,180,935 4,185.32 282 7 25 JP-17
岩手県 Morioka Tōhokumarker Honshūmarker 1,416,198 15,278.51 93 12 46 JP-03
香川県 Takamatsu Shikokumarker Shikokumarker 1,022,843 1,861.70 549 5 17 JP-37
鹿児島県 Kagoshima Kyūshūmarker Kyūshūmarker 1,786,214 9,132.42 196 11 49 JP-46
神奈川県 Yokohama Kantō Honshūmarker 8,489,932 2,415.42 3,515 7 35 JP-14
高知県 Kōchi Shikokumarker Shikokumarker 813,980 7,104.70 115 6 35 JP-39
熊本県 Kumamoto Kyūshūmarker Kyūshūmarker 1,859,451 6,908.45 269 10 48 JP-43
京都府 Kyoto Kansaimarker Honshūmarker 2,644,331 4,612.93 573 6 28 JP-26
三重県 Tsu Kansaimarker Honshūmarker 1,857,365 5760.72 322 7 29 JP-24
宮城県 Sendai Tōhokumarker Honshūmarker 2,365,204 7,285.16 325 10 36 JP-04
宮崎県 Miyazaki Kyūshūmarker Kyūshūmarker 1,170,023 6,684.67 175 8 30 JP-45
長野県 Nagano Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 2,214,409 12,598.48 163 16 120 JP-20
長崎県 Nagasaki Kyūshūmarker Kyūshūmarker 1,516,536 4,092.80 371 9 79 JP-42
奈良県 Nara Kansaimarker Honshūmarker 1,442,862 3,691.09 391 8 47 JP-29
新潟県 Niigata Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 2,475,724 12,582.37 197 16 111 JP-15
大分県 Ōita Kyūshūmarker Kyūshūmarker 1,221,128 5,804.24 210 12 58 JP-44
岡山県 Okayama Chūgokumarker Honshūmarker 1,950,656 7,008.63 278 18 78 JP-33
沖縄県 Naha Kyūshūmarker Ryūkyū

1,318,281 2,271.30 580 5 41 JP-47
大阪府 Osaka Kansaimarker Honshūmarker 8,804,806 1,893.18 4,652 5 44 JP-27
佐賀県 Saga Kyūshūmarker Kyūshūmarker 876,664 2,439.23 359 8 49 JP-41
埼玉県 Saitama Kantō Honshūmarker 6,938,004 3,767.09 1,827 9 90 JP-11
滋賀県 Otsu Kansaimarker Honshūmarker 1,342,811 4,017.36 334 11 50 JP-25
島根県 Matsue Chūgokumarker Honshūmarker 761,499 6,707.32 114 12 59 JP-32
静岡県 Shizuoka Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 3,767,427 7,328.61 484 12 74 JP-22
栃木県 Utsunomiya Kantō Honshūmarker 2,004,787 6,408.28 313 7 33 JP-09
徳島県 Tokushima Shikokumarker Shikokumarker 823,997 4,145.26 199 10 50 JP-36
東京都 Shinjuku Kantō Honshūmarker 12,059,237 2,187.08 5,514 1 39 JP-13
鳥取県 Tottori Chūgokumarker Honshūmarker 613,229 3,507.19 175 6 39 JP-31
富山県 Toyama Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 1,120,843 4,247.22 264 6 27 JP-16
和歌山県 Wakayama Kansaimarker Honshūmarker 1,069,839 4,725.55 226 7 50 JP-30
山形県 Yamagata Tōhokumarker Honshūmarker 1,244,040 9,323.34 133 9 44 JP-06
山口県 Yamaguchi Chūgokumarker Honshūmarker 1,528,107 6,110.76 250 11 56 JP-35
山梨県 Kofu Chūbumarker Honshūmarker 888,170 4,465.37 199 8 64 JP-19
Notes: ¹ as of 2000; ² km²; ³ per km²


See also


  1. Mabuchi, Masaru, "Municipal Amalgamation in Japan", World Bank, 2001.
  2. "Doshusei Regional System" National Association for Research Advancement.

External links

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