Monday, January 27, 2014


It's cool/frustrating that you can believe yourself to be so familiar with Japan and yet be unaware of some pretty basic terminology. Of course these gaps are frustrating, but I say this is "cool" because on the upside there are always these little tidbits to learn.

One term that I only just learned relatively recently is 都道府県 (とどうふけん), which sounds like a Street Fighter move but refers to Japan's 47 prefectures. I guess when I was actually in Japan I didn't really watch much TV and newspapers were a little too intimidating, so I didn't often encounter words like this.

But at any rate, why is there a special word for the prefectures collectively? Why not just 47県? Well, because they don't all share the same governmental status or structure. Wikipedia breaks it down pretty well:

"The prefectures of Japan are the country's 47 first-order subnational jurisdictions on a state or provincial level: one "metropolis" (都 to?), Tokyo; one "circuit"/territory (道 dō?), Hokkaido; two urban prefectures (府 fu?), Osaka and Kyoto; and 43 other prefectures (県 ken?). Prefectures are governmental bodies larger than cities, towns, and villages."

So while we just call them all prefectures in English, I think in Japanese there is some distinction.


  1. Love your blog. The language snippets are fascinating.

  2. Thanks for commenting! Glad you're enjoying it.