The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






Prefectures of Japan

The prefectures of Japan are the country's 47 sub-national jurisdictions: one "metropolis" (都; To), Tokyo; one "circuit" (道; Dō), Hokkaidō; two urban prefectures (府; Fu), Osaka and Kyoto; and 43 other prefectures (県; Ken). In Japanese, they are commonly referred to as Todōfuken (都道府県).

The current system was established by the Meiji government in 1871, and is known as the abolition of the han system. The prefectures also replace the former provinces. Although there were initially over 300 prefectures, this number was reduced to 47 in 1888. The Local Autonomy Law of 1947 gave more political power to prefectures, and provided for locally-elected governors. In 2003, 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.

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


List of prefectures

Prefecture Japanese Capital Region Island Population¹ Area² Density³ Distr. Municip. ISO
Aichi 愛知県 Nagoya Chubu Honshu 7,043,235 5,153.81 1,366 15 88 JP-23
Akita 秋田県 Akita Tohoku Honshu 1,189,215 11,612.11 102 8 65 JP-05
Aomori 青森県 Aomori Tohoku Honshu 1,475,635 9,606.26 154 8 61 JP-02
Chiba 千葉県 Chiba Kanto Honshu 5,926,349 5,156.15 1,149 9 80 JP-12
Ehime 愛媛県 Matsuyama Shikoku Shikoku 1,493,126 5,676.44 263 7 28 JP-38
Fukui 福井県 Fukui Chubu Honshu 828,960 4,188.76 198 10 29 JP-18
Fukuoka 福岡県 Fukuoka Kyushu Kyushu 5,015,666 4,971.01 1,009 17 91 JP-40
Fukushima 福島県 Fukushima Tohoku Honshu 2,126,998 13,782.54 154 14 85 JP-07
Gifu 岐阜県 Gifu Chubu Honshu 2,107,687 10,598.18 199 11 49 JP-21
Gunma 群馬県 Maebashi Kanto Honshu 2,024,820 6,363.16 318 12 61 JP-10
Hiroshima 広島県 Hiroshima Chugoku Honshu 2,878,949 8,476.95 340 10 37 JP-34
Hokkaido 北海道 Sapporo Hokkaido Hokkaido 5,682,950 83,452.47 68 66 212 JP-01
Hyogo 兵庫県 Kobe Kinki Honshu 5,550,742 8,392.42 661 19 88 JP-28
Ibaraki 茨城県 Mito Kanto Honshu 2,985,424 6,095.62 490 14 84 JP-08
Ishikawa 石川県 Kanazawa Chubu Honshu 1,180,935 4,185.32 282 8 41 JP-17
Iwate 岩手県 Morioka Tohoku Honshu 1,416,198 15,278.51 93 12 59 JP-03
Kagawa 香川県 Takamatsu Shikoku Shikoku 1,022,843 1,861.70 549 6 37 JP-37
Kagoshima 鹿児島県 Kagoshima Kyushu Kyushu 1,786,214 9,132.42 196 12 96 JP-46
Kanagawa 神奈川県 Yokohama Kanto Honshu 8,489,932 2,415.42 3,515 7 37 JP-14
Kochi 高知県 Kochi Shikoku Shikoku 813,980 7,104.70 115 7 53 JP-39
Kumamoto 熊本県 Kumamoto Kyushu Kyushu 1,859,451 6,908.45 269 11 94 JP-43
Kyoto 京都府 Kyoto Kinki Honshu 2,644,331 4,612.93 573 12 44 JP-26
Mie 三重県 Tsu Kinki Honshu 1,857,365 5760.72 322 14 69 JP-24
Miyagi 宮城県 Sendai Tohoku Honshu 2,365,204 6,861.51 325 15 71 JP-04
Miyazaki 宮崎県 Miyazaki Kyushu Kyushu 1,170,023 6,684.67 175 8 44 JP-45
Nagano 長野県 Nagano Chubu Honshu 2,214,409 12,598.48 163 16 120 JP-20
Nagasaki 長崎県 Nagasaki Kyushu Kyushu 1,516,536 4,092.80 371 9 79 JP-42
Nara 奈良県 Nara Kinki Honshu 1,442,862 3,691.09 391 8 47 JP-29
Niigata 新潟県 Niigata Chubu Honshu 2,475,724 12,582.37 197 16 111 JP-15
Oita 大分県 Oita Kyushu Kyushu 1,221,128 5,804.24 210 12 58 JP-44
Okayama 岡山県 Okayama Chugoku Honshu 1,950,656 7,008.63 278 18 78 JP-33
Okinawa 沖縄県 Naha Kyushu Okinawa 1,318,281 2,271.30 580 5 53 JP-47
Osaka 大阪府 Osaka Kinki Honshu 8,804,806 1,893.18 4,652 5 44 JP-27
Saga 佐賀県 Saga Kyushu Kyushu 876,664 2,439.23 359 8 49 JP-41
Saitama 埼玉県 Saitama Kanto Honshu 6,938,004 3,767.09 1,827 9 90 JP-11
Shiga 滋賀県 Otsu Kinki Honshu 1,342,811 4,017.36 334 11 50 JP-25
Shimane 島根県 Matsue Chugoku Honshu 761,499 6,707.32 114 12 59 JP-32
Shizuoka 静岡県 Shizuoka Chubu Honshu 3,767,427 7,328.61 484 12 74 JP-22
Tochigi 栃木県 Utsunomiya Kanto Honshu 2,004,787 6,408.28 313 7 49 JP-09
Tokushima 徳島県 Tokushima Shikoku Shikoku 823,997 4,145.26 199 10 50 JP-36
Tokyo 東京都 Shinjuku Kanto Honshu 12,059,237 2,187.08 5,514 1 39 JP-13
Tottori 鳥取県 Tottori Chugoku Honshu 613,229 3,507.19 175 6 39 JP-31
Toyama 富山県 Toyama Chubu Honshu 1,120,843 4,247.22 264 6 27 JP-16
Wakayama 和歌山県 Wakayama Kinki Honshu 1,069,839 4,725.55 226 7 50 JP-30
Yamagata 山形県 Yamagata Tohoku Honshu 1,244,040 9,323.34 133 9 44 JP-06
Yamaguchi 山口県 Yamaguchi Chugoku Honshu 1,528,107 6,110.76 250 11 56 JP-35
Yamanashi 山梨県 Kofu Chubu Honshu 888,170 4,465.37 199 8 64 JP-19

Notes: ¹ as of 2000 — ² km² — ³ per km²

Types of prefectures

To, , fu, and ken differ mainly in name: their names differ for historical reasons.

Fu (Osaka/Kyoto) and Ken

During the Edo period, the bakufu established bugyō-ruled zones (奉行支配地) around over nine largest cities in Japan, and 302 township-ruled zones (郡代支配地) elsewhere. When Meiji government began to create the prefectural system in 1868, the first year of Meiji era, while the nine of bugyō-ruled zones became fu, the township-ruled zones and the rests 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 (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 Tokaidō and Saikaidō, consisting of several provinces. It means road in Kanji and is considered to have been settled by the Emperor Temmu.

Hokkaidō, 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 Hokkaidō prefecture in 1886. The -ken suffix was never added to its name, so the -dō suffix became understood to mean "prefecture."

When Hokkaido 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. These sub-prefectures are the main difference between Hokkaidō and the other ken, but they are only a consequence of Hokkaidō's enormous size, not its designation.

"Hokkaido 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 "Hokkaido Government" rather than the "Hokkaido Prefectural Government."

Today, Hokkaido is the least populated of the four main Japanese islands. The largest and prefectural capital is Sapporo, the sixth 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). With newly created wards, which had been suburb villages and towns of Tokyo City, 35 wards were placed under Tokyo-fu. The implicit reason for this reorganization was to consolidate the administration of the area around the capital by eliminating the extra level of authority in Tokyo. In 1947 35 wards were reorganized into the 23 special wards, because the population of Tokyo heavily decreased. Many died because of the several bombardment during the war and many survived people refused out of the city, and many men who had been drafted didn't return. Although the postwar growth of Tokyo has caused its urban area to spill over into several other prefectures, and finally the wards have got the equal status to the city and therefore the power of automony as cities.

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.

See also

External links

Last updated: 10-16-2005 00:55:45
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