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Encyclopedia > Municipality of Japan

This article is about the Japanese municipality system.


Basic Municipality

Japan has three levels of government: national, prefectural, and municipal. The nation consists of 47 prefectures. Each prefecture consists of numerous municipalities.

Municipalities have four names: cities, towns, villages and special ward (the ku of Tokyo). In Japanese, these are known as shi-cho-son-ku (市町村区).

Cities (shi, and the ku of Tokyo), towns (町, pronounced either cho or machi), villages (村, pronounced either son or mura) are basic municipalties. The ku of Tokyo are also translated as special ward. The difference between a shi and a special ward, the difference between a cho and a machi, and the difference between a son and a mura are only matters of the expression used in legal text. Colloquially, most municipalities are said without suffixes except for a few conventional cases such as Shinshu-shinmachi, Nagano and Shinmachi, Nagano.

Generally, a village or town can be promoted to a city when its population increases above fifty thousand, and a city can (but need not) be demoted to a town or village when its population decreases below fifty thousand. The least-populated city, Utashinai, Hokkaido, has population of mere six thousand, while a town in the same prefecture, Otofuke, Hokkaido, has nearly forty thousand.

Criteria for distinguishing between a village and a town are decided by the prefecture to which it belongs.

A city (市 shi) is a local public body in Japan, part of a prefecture (ken or other equivalents). Likewise, a town (cho) and village (mura) is a part of a prefecture. A city's extent is contained within a prefecture.

The following are major cities:

  • Fukuoka, the most populous city in the Kyushu region
  • Hiroshima, the busy manufacturing city in the Chugoku region of Honshu
  • Kobe, a major port on the Inland Sea, located in the center of Honshu near Osaka
  • Kitakyushu, a city of just over one million inhabitants in Kyushu
  • Kyoto, former capital, historic center and thriving modern city
  • Nagasaki, a port on the island of Kyushu
  • Nagoya, center of a major automobile-manufacturing region on the eastern seaboard of Honshu
  • Osaka, a vast manufacturing city on the Inland Sea coast of Honshu
  • Sapporo, the largest city in Hokkaido
  • Sendai, the principal center of northeast Honshu
  • Yokohama, a port city just south of Tokyo

Note that Tokyo is not a city. Tokyo Prefecture encompasses 23 special wards, each a city unto itself, as well as many cities, towns and even villages on the Japanese mainland and outlying islands. For information on the former city of that name, see Tokyo City; for information about present-day Tokyo Prefecture, see Tokyo.

See List of cities in Japan for more complete list.

Each of the 23 Special Wards of Tokyo is legally equivalent to a city.

Except for these wards of Tokyo, all large cities are of cities designated by government ordinance.

See also: Core city, Municipality of Japan


Prefectures have any of four names: to, do, fu, and ken. They are governmental bodies bigger than cities, towns, and villages, and smaller than the nation. The differences among all these words are only matters of expressions in legal text. Colloquially most prefectures are called without suffixes except for Hokkaido. However, when it is necessary to distinguish a prefecture from the city of the same name, it becomes important to add the suffix. For example, Hiroshima is the name of a prefecture (-ken), and also its largest city (-shi). To name the prefecture, one says Hiroshima-ken; to name the city, Hiroshima-shi.


The words Cho and machi are also used for addresses in urban areas. These instances are not municipalities. In rare cases, a mura (municipal village) might even contain a machi (town by name). As an example of a cho that is not a municipality, Awaji-cho is a small district within a special ward in Tokyo. Even though it has the word cho, meaning town, at the end, Awaji-cho is not a town. Many such cho were previously towns that coalesced to form larger cities (and many were not).

Similarly, the ku of Osaka, Kyoto, and other large cities are non-municipal administration wards. The ku of Himeji are non-municipal asset wards.

Subprefectures (shicho) are branch offices of the prefectures and not municipalities by themselves.

Districts (gun) are not current municipalities but names of groups of towns and villages.

Provinces (kuni) are not current municipalities but (almost obsolete) names of geographical regions similar to prefectures.

See Also

  Results from FactBites:
Municipality (711 words)
A municipality or "general-purpose district" (compare with: "special-purpose district") is an administrative local area generally composed of a clearly defined territory and commonly referring to a city, town, or village government.
In Canada, a municipality is a city, town, township, county, or regional municipality which has been incorporated by statute by the legislatures of the Provinces and territories of Canada.
In South Africa, municipalities are subdivisions of a province, and are ranked by size.
  More results at FactBites »



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