The bureaucratic administration of Japan is divided into three basic levels: national, prefectural, and municipal. They are defined by the Local Autonomy Law of 1947.

Below the national government there are 47 prefectures, six of which are further subdivided into subprefectures to better service large geographical areas or remote islands.

The 1718 municipalities (792 cities, 743 towns, and 183 villages)[1] and 23 special wards of Tokyo are the lowest level of government; the twenty most-populated cities outside Tokyo Metropolis are known as designated cities, and are subdivided into wards.

Prefectural divisions

Main article: Prefectures of Japan

47 prefectural entities of Japan

The top tier of administrative divisions are the 47 prefectural entities: 43 prefectures (, ken) proper, two urban prefectures (, fu, Osaka and Kyōto), one "circuit" (, , Hokkaidō), and one "metropolis" (, to, Tokyo Metropolis). Although different in name, they are functionally the same.


"Prefecture" (, ken) are the most common types of prefectural divisions total of 43 ken. The kanji (character) from which this is derived means "county".


Tokyo Metropolis is referred to as a "metropolis" (, to) after the dissolution of Tokyo City in 1943, Tōkyō-fu (Tokyo Prefecture) was upgraded into Tōkyō-to and the former Tokyo City's wards were upgraded into special wards. The kanji (character) from which this is derived means "capital".


Further information: Fu (administrative division)

Osaka Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture are referred to as an "urban prefecture" (, fu). The Chinese character from which this is derived implies a core urban zone of national importance in middle period of China, or implies a sub division of a province in late period of China.

Further information: Circuit (administrative division)

Hokkaido is referred to as a "circuit" (, ), this term was originally used to refer to Japanese regions consisting of several provinces. This was also a historical usage of the character in China meaning circuit.

Subprefectural divisions

There are only two types of subprefectural divisions: subprefecture and district.


Main article: Subprefectures of Japan

Subprefectures (支庁, shichō) are a Japanese form of self-government which focuses on local issues below the prefectural level. It acts as part of the greater administration of the state and as part of a self-government system.[2]


Main article: Districts of Japan

Districts (, gun) were administrative units in use between 1878 and 1921 that were roughly equivalent to the counties of China or the United States. In the 1920s, municipal functions were transferred from district offices to the offices of the towns and villages within the district. District names remain in the postal address of towns and villages, and districts are sometimes used as boundaries for electoral districts, but otherwise serve no official function. The Classical Chinese character from which this is derived means commandery.

Municipal divisions

Main article: Municipalities of Japan

1,742 municipal and 175 submunicipal entities of Japan

The municipal divisions are divided into three main categories city, town, and village. However the city entities are further categorized. The Special wards of Tokyo are also considered to be municipal divisions.


Cities in Japan are categorized into four different types, from the highest the designated city, the core city, the special city, and the regular city at the lowest.

Designated city

Main article: Cities designated by government ordinance of Japan

A city designated by government ordinance (政令指定都市, seirei shitei toshi), also known as a designated city (指定都市, shitei toshi) or government ordinance city (政令市, seirei shi), is a Japanese city that has a population greater than 500,000 and has been designated as such by an order of the cabinet of Japan under Article 252, Section 19 of the Local Autonomy Law. Designated cities are also subdivided into wards.

Core city

Main article: Core cities of Japan

A core city (中核市, Chūkakushi) is a Japanese city that has a population greater than 300,000 and an area greater than 100 square kilometers, although special exceptions may be made by order of the cabinet for cities with populations under 300,000 but over 200,000.[3] Core city was created by the first clause of Article 252, Section 22 of the Local Autonomy Law of Japan.

Special city

Main article: Special cities of Japan

A special city (特例市, Tokureishi) of Japan is a city with a population of at least 200,000. This category was established by the Local Autonomy Law, article 252 clause 26.


Main article: Cities of Japan

A city (, shi) is a local administrative unit in Japan with a population of at least 50,000 of which at least 60% of households must be established in a central urban area, and at least 60% of households must be employed in commerce, industry or other urban occupations. Cities are ranked on the same level as towns (, machi) and villages (, mura); the only difference is that they are not a component of districts (, gun). Like other contemporary administrative units, they are defined by the Local Autonomy Law of 1947.


Main article: List of towns in Japan

A town (, chō or machi) is a local administrative unit in Japan. It is a local public body along with prefecture (ken or other equivalents), city (shi), and village (mura). Geographically, a town is contained within a prefecture.


Main article: List of villages in Japan

A village (, mura, sometimes son) is a local administrative unit in Japan. It is a local public body along with prefecture (, ken, or other equivalents), city (, shi), and town (, chō, sometimes machi). Geographically, a village's extent is contained within a prefecture. It is larger than an actual settlement, being in actuality a subdivision of a rural district (, gun), which are subdivided into towns and villages with no overlap and no uncovered area.

Special Ward

Main article: Special wards of Tokyo

The special wards (特別区, tokubetsu-ku) are 23 municipalities that together make up the core and the most populous part of Tokyo Metropolis, Japan. Together, they occupy the land that was originally the Tokyo City before it was abolished in 1943 to become part of the newly created Tokyo Metropolis. The special wards' structure was established under the Japanese Local Autonomy Law and is unique to Tokyo Metropolis.

Submunicipal divisions


Main article: Wards of Japan

A ward (, ku) is a subdivision of the cities of Japan that are large enough to have been designated by government ordinance.[4]


Although the details of local administration have changed dramatically over time, the basic outline of the current two-tiered system since the abolition of the han system by the Meiji government in 1871 are similar. Before the abolition of the han system, Japan was divided into provinces (, kuni) then subdivided into districts (, gun) and then villages (里/郷, sato) at the bottom.

Structural hierarchy

Prefectural Subprefectural Municipal Submunicipal
(excluding Tokyo Metropolis)
Subprefecture "designated city" Ward
District Town
Subprefecture District
  "core city"
"special city"
Metropolis City
Special wards
Level Type Kanji Romaji No.
Prefectural Tokyo Metropolis to 1 Tokyo (東京都 Tōkyō-to)
"circuit" 1 Hokkaido (北海道 Hokkaidō)
"urban prefecture" fu 2 Kyoto Prefecture (京都府 Kyōto-fu) and Osaka Prefecture (大阪府 Ōsaka-fu)
Prefecture ken 43 Prefectures except Tokyo, Hokkaido, Kyoto Prefecture and Osaka Prefecture
  Subprefectural Subprefecture 支庁 shichō 158
District gun 374
Municipal "designated city" 政令指定都市 seirei shitei toshi 20
"core city" 中核市 chūkaku-shi 42
"special city" 特例市 tokurei-shi 40
City shi 792 Including designated, core and special cities.
Town chō or machi 743
Village mura or son 183
Special ward 区 (特別区) ku (tokubetsu-ku) 23 Special wards of Tokyo (東京都区部 Tōkyō-to kubu), 23 wards of Tokyo (東京23区 Tōkyō nijūsan-ku)
  Submunicipal Ward 区 (行政区) ku (gyōsei-ku) 175 Only used for designated cities
ISO Prefecture Kanji Region Cities [all-types]
(Special wards)
Wards Districts Towns Villages
JP-23  Aichi 愛知県 Chūbu 38 16 7 14 2
JP-05  Akita 秋田県 Tōhoku 13 6 9 3
JP-02  Aomori 青森県 Tōhoku 10 8 22 8
JP-12  Chiba 千葉県 Kantō 37 6 6 16 1
JP-38  Ehime 愛媛県 Shikoku 11 7 9
JP-18  Fukui 福井県 Chūbu 9 7 17
JP-40  Fukuoka 福岡県 Kyushu 28 14 12 30 2
JP-07  Fukushima 福島県 Tōhoku 13 13 31 15
JP-21  Gifu 岐阜県 Chūbu 21 9 19 2
JP-10  Gunma 群馬県 Kantō 12 7 15 8
JP-34  Hiroshima 広島県 Chūgoku 14 8 5 9
JP-01  Hokkaidō 北海道 Hokkaido 35 10 66 129 15[1]
JP-28  Hyōgo 兵庫県 Kansai 29 9 8 12
JP-08  Ibaraki 茨城県 Kantō 32 7 10 2
JP-17  Ishikawa 石川県 Chūbu 11 5 8
JP-03  Iwate 岩手県 Tōhoku 14 10 15 4
JP-37  Kagawa 香川県 Shikoku 8 5 9
JP-46  Kagoshima 鹿児島県 Kyushu 19 8 20 4
JP-14  Kanagawa 神奈川県 Kantō 19 28 6 13 1
JP-39  Kōchi 高知県 Shikoku 11 6 17 6
JP-43  Kumamoto 熊本県 Kyushu 14 5 9 23 8
JP-26  Kyōto 京都府 Kansai 15 11 6 10 1
JP-24  Mie 三重県 Kansai 14 7 15
JP-04  Miyagi 宮城県 Tōhoku 13 5 10 21 1
JP-45  Miyazaki 宮崎県 Kyushu 9 6 14 3
JP-20  Nagano 長野県 Chūbu 19 14 23 35
JP-42  Nagasaki 長崎県 Kyushu 13 4 8
JP-29  Nara 奈良県 Kansai 12 7 15 12
JP-15  Niigata 新潟県 Chūbu 20 8 9 6 4
JP-44  Ōita 大分県 Kyushu 14 3 3 1
JP-33  Okayama 岡山県 Chūgoku 15 4 10 10 2
JP-47  Okinawa 沖縄県 Kyushu 11 5 11 19
JP-27  Ōsaka 大阪府 Kansai 33 31 5 9 1
JP-41  Saga 佐賀県 Kyushu 10 6 10
JP-11  Saitama 埼玉県 Kantō 40 10 8 22 1
JP-25  Shiga 滋賀県 Kansai 13 3 6
JP-32  Shimane 島根県 Chūgoku 8 5 10 1
JP-22  Shizuoka 静岡県 Chūbu 23 10 5 12
JP-09  Tochigi 栃木県 Kantō 14 5 12
JP-36  Tokushima 徳島県 Shikoku 8 8 15 1
JP-13  Tōkyō 東京都 Kantō 26 (23) 1 5 8
JP-31  Tottori 鳥取県 Chūgoku 4 5 14 1
JP-16  Toyama 富山県 Chūbu 10 2 4 1
JP-30  Wakayama 和歌山県 Kansai 9 6 20 1
JP-06  Yamagata 山形県 Tōhoku 13 8 19 3
JP-35  Yamaguchi 山口県 Chūgoku 13 4 6
JP-19  Yamanashi 山梨県 Chūbu 13 5 8 6
Total 792 (23) 175 307 743 183

See also


  1. ^ a b Not inducing the six villages in the Kuril Islands dispute area.
  2. ^ Imperial Japanese Commission to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition. (1903). Japan in the beginning of the 20th century, p. 80.
  3. ^ "日本財団図書館(電子図書館)Revised Local Autonomy Law".
  4. ^ "Statistical Handbook of Japan 2008" by Statistics Bureau, Japan Archived 7 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine Chapter 17: Government System (Retrieved on 4 July 2009)