Provinces of Japan

Provinces of Japan
The provinces in Kamakura period to 1868

Before the modern prefecture system was established, the land of Japan was divided into tens of kuni (国, countries), usually known in English as provinces.[1] Each province was divided into gun (郡, districts; earlier called kōri).

The provinces were originally established by Ritsuryō as both administrative units and geographic regions. In the late Muromachi period, however, their function as administrative units was effectively and gradually supplanted by the domains of the sengoku-daimyo. Under the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the provinces were totally replaced as administrative units by daimyo's fiefs. In the Edo period, the fiefs became known as han. The provinces remained as geographical entities and people often referred to a certain place by coupling the name of the province with the name of the han.

At the Meiji restoration, the han were legitimized as administrative units but quickly replaced by prefectures (urban prefectures were called fu and rural prefectures ken). Provinces as part of the system of addresses were not abolished but, on the contrary, augmented. As of 1871, the number of prefectures was 304, while the number of provinces was 68, not including Hokkaidō and Ryūkyū Province. The boundaries between the many prefectures were not only very complicated, but also did not match those of the provinces. Prefectures were gradually merged to reduce the number to 37 by 1881; a few were then divided to give a total of 45 by 1885. Adding Hokkaidō and Okinawa produced the current total of 47 prefectures.

Provinces are classified into kinai (within the capital), and seven or eight (routes, or circuits), collectively known as the goki shichidō. Note that, however, in this context should not be confused with modern traffic lines such as Tōkaidō from Tokyo to Kyoto or Kobe. Also, Hokkaidō in this context should not be confused with Hokkaidō Prefecture, although these two overlap geographically.



To date, no official order has been issued abolishing provinces. Provinces are nonetheless today considered obsolete, although their names are still widely used in names of natural features, company names, and brands. In the early 2000s, former governor of Nagano Prefecture, Yasuo Tanaka (president of New Party Nippon), proposed the renaming of his prefecture to "Shinshū" (信州, a name derived from Shinano Province) because it is still widely used, as in Shinshū soba (信州そば), Shinshū miso (信州味噌) and Shinshu University.

These province names are considered to be mainly of historical interest. They are also used for the names of items, including family names, most of which were popularized in or after the Edo period. Examples include sanuki udon, iyokan, tosa ken, and awa odori. Japan Rail stations also use it in names to, aside from the historical background, distinguish themselves from similarly named stations in other prefectures.

Some of the province names are used to indicate distinct parts of the current prefectures along with their cultural and geographical characteristics. In many cases these names are also in use with directional characters, e.g. Hoku-Setsu (北摂?) meaning Northern (?) Settsu (摂津?) area.

The districts are still considered prefectural subdivisions, however in case of being part of a merger or division of old provinces, they may be shared among several prefectures (such as the original Adachi District of Musashi, which is now divided between Adachi Ward of Tokyo and Kita-Adachi District in Saitama). Many of these old provincial districts have been dissolved as their chief towns have merged into larger cities or towns. See individual prefecture pages for mergers and abolitions of districts.

See also


  1. ^ Nussbaum, Louis-Frédéric. (2005). "Provinces and prefectures" in Japan Encyclopedia, p. 780 at Google Books; n.b., Louis-Frédéric is pseudonym of Louis-Frédéric Nussbaum, see Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Authority File.


External links

Detailed maps of the provinces at different times can be found at:

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