A Quick Guide for how to understand the organization of japan
Here’s a quick guide to help you grasp how Japan is organized, both geographically and administratively. This will help to orient you better while traveling.
This information is actually based on a chapter from my guidebook Hidden Tokyo. I felt it was necessary to create a simple explanation and diagram of how Japan is organized because this is the only way to really grasp Tokyo.
This guidebook is designed around the concept of understanding Tokyo from the basis of its many rich neighborhoods. But, to better do that, it’s important to situate these neighborhoods in relation to the whole.
It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed or intimidated by Japan’s foreign structure. You have regions, wards, prefectures, municipalities and islands, yet how does it all relate? What does it all mean?
This flow chart is designed to basically lay it out in a simple and straightforward way. First of all, Japan is organized according to two different methods, geography and administratively.
ISLANDS: From the broadest macro point of view, the county of Japan as a whole is divided into 4 Main Islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. Tokyo is located on the Honshu Island. These island names are for map and delineating purposes only and are named from north to south.
REGIONS: Further, you have regions. These regions are essentially to further subdivide the country but again, for non-administrative purposes. It’s useful for books, references, and mapping purposes. There are 8 Regions: Hokkaido, Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai, Chukoku, Shikoku, and Kyushi (from north to south).
Tokyo is located in the Kanto Region of the Honshu Island.
Now the fun begins. If you’ve ever wondered how wards and prefectures all relate, you’re not alone. It’s honestly a bit of a mess because there’s a lot of overlap. You have a ton of neighborhoods within cities that are within wards that are within prefectures that are within regions located within islands. Once you understand the top-down organization, it all makes perfect sense, though.
Similar to the geographic breakdown, Japan’s administrative structure is also broken down into parts from the top down.
PREFECTURES: There are 47 Prefectures in Japan. These form the broadest source of administration in the country. Tokyo is located in the Tokyo Prefecture. Yokohama is located in the Kanagawa Prefecture.
MUNICIPALITIES: Within each prefecture, you have cities, wards, villages, and towns which comprise what are called municipalities. There are a total of 1,719 municipalities in the entire country. The most common and macro breakdown of municipalities are called wards, or ku in Japanese. You’ll hear Shibuya-ku, this indicates the Shibuya Ward.
Within the metropolis of Tokyo, you therefore have cities within this city. But also, Tokyo is comprised of 23 Special Wards which are slightly different than a traditional ward you see throughout the rest of the country. But for all intensive purposes, it’s an administrative ward and within each ward, you can situate Tokyo’s many neighborhoods.
Without going into the actual administrative function of each municipality, hopefully you found this helpful to better grasp the layout of Japan and how Tokyo is situated.
I highly recommend my book The Hidden Tokyo Neighborhood Guide. It breaks down the major Tokyo wards and details around 30 of Tokyo’s most interesting neighborhoods. You will get over 450 pages of priceless travel tips & insight, organized by district for easy reference. Most people who travel to Tokyo only skim the surface – this guide makes sure that won’t happen! You will leave actually knowing Tokyo.