Prefectures of Japan

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  • Japanese: 都道府県 (todoufuken)

Japan is today divided into 47 prefectures, including one to 都, or "Metropolitan Prefecture" (Tôkyô-to), two fu 府, or "Urban Prefectures" (Ôsaka-fu and Kyôto-fu), one 道 (lit. "circuit", Hokkaidô), and 43 ken 県.[1] The names of the old provinces (kuni) survive today in the names of local customs, foods, and universities, including Awa odori, Sanuki udon, and Shinshû University, to give just a few examples. However, they no longer have any official status as political geographical units.

The first prefectures were established in 1868, when the shogunal domains (tenryô) were abolished. Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto were at that time designated fu, and the remainder of the shogunal lands, along with hatamoto lands and some small domains[2] were divided up into ken (a borrowing from the Chinese xiàn). The rest of the domains were renamed han. Hokkaidô was annexed in 1869, and the rest of Japan was divided up into ken in 1871, as the han were abolished, with the final step being the abolition of Ryûkyû han and establishment of Okinawa Prefecture in 1879. The borders, names, and numbers of prefectures fluctuated considerably over the course of the Meiji period, but eventually settled into the 47 we know today.

A note in the July 1878 Japan Weekly Mail set the precedent for ken to be called "provinces" in English, and their heads (kenrei) to be called "prefects." It was from this that the term "prefectures" soon afterwards came into common usage, replacing "provinces," even as, ironically, the "prefects" came to be referred to in English as "governors."

List of Prefectures











  • Ben-Ami Shillony, "Restoration, Emperor, Diet, Prefecture, or: How Japanese Concepts were Mistranslated into Western Languages," Collected Writings of Ben-Ami Shillony, Synapse (2000), 73-74.
  1. While all the fu and ken are referred to as "X prefecture" in English, and are governed by "prefectural governments," Hokkaidô is called simply Hokkaidô, not Hokkaidô Prefecture, and Tokyo is officially called Tokyo Metropolis; its prefectural-level government is known as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
  2. Mark Ravina, Land and Lordship in Early Modern Japan, Stanford University Press (1999), 33.