Japanese Geography: Japan’s Forty-Seven Prefectures

When I teach English classes, I often ask my students what they did over the weekend. Usually I get the standard, “Nothing special.” response and that’s the end of it. Yesterday, I had a very small class (only two students) and I tried asking the very same question; it’s a great way to get some of the Japanese kids used to English small talk. It turned out that, coincidentally, both students have grandparents that live in Miyagi, and they both visited their grandparents over the weekend. I just smiled and let them know how cool it was, mainly through silly gestures, that they had visited the same place. Truth be told, though, I haven’t the foggiest idea of where Miyagi, Japan is.

For me, this happens far too often. Someone will mention a place by asking a question “Do you know where Aomori is?” “Do you know where Sendai is?” On occasion I have a general idea about where the place may be, but 95% of the time, I have no clue whatsoever. As a result of my ignorance, I was inspired to crack open a book and start figuring some things out. I want/need to learn more about the regions around me. Something tells me I’ll be in Japan for a while, so it’s better for me to know than not to.

Japan’s Prefectures

First of all, what are prefectures anyway? Prefectures are geographic subdivisions of Japan. Can you imagine if Japan, or any country for that matter, wasn’t divided? It would be pretty chaotic I think. In my opinion, these areas, prefectures, create organization in Japan. Government’s general purpose is to create order, and the Japanese government established the prefectures (when? I’m not exactly sure). A prefecture is to Japan what a state is to the United States. Not to be confused with regions, Japan consists of 47 different prefectures:

1. Hokkaido (ほっかいどう : 北海道)

2. Aomori-ken (あおもりけん : 青森県)

3. Akita-ken (あきたけん : 秋田県)

4. Iwate-ken (いわてけん : 岩手県)

5. Yamagata-ken (やまがたけん : 山形県)

6. Miyagi-ken (みやぎけん : 宮城県)

7. Niigata-ken (にいがたけん : 新潟県)

8. Fukushima-ken (ふくしまけん : 福島県)

9. Gunma-ken (ぐんまけん : 群馬県)

10. Tochigi-ken (とちぎけん : 栃木県)

11. Ibaraki-ken ( いばらきけん : 茨城県)

12. Saitama-ken (さいたまけん : 埼玉県)

13. Tokyo-to (ときょうと : 東京都)

14. Chiba-ken (ちばけん : 千葉県)

15. Kanagawa-ken (かながわけん : 神奈川県)

16. Yamanashi-ken (やまなしけん : 山梨県)

17. Nagano-ken (ながのけん : 長野県)

18. Shizuoka-ken (しずおかけん : 静岡県)

19. Toyama-ken (とやまけん : 富山県)

20. Ishikawa-ken (いしかわけん : 石川県)

21. Fukui-ken (ふくいけん : 福井県)

22. Gifu-ken (ぎふけん : 岐阜県)

23. Aichi-ken (あいちけん : 愛知県)

24. Shiga-ken (しがけん : 滋賀県)

25. Mie-ken (みえけん : 三重県)

26. Kyoto-fu (きようとふ : 京都府)

27. Osaka-fu (おおさかふ : 大阪府)

28. Nara-ken (ならけん : 奈良県)

29. Wakayama-ken (わかやまけん : 和歌山県)

30. Hyogo-ken (ひょうごけん : 兵庫県)

31. Tottori-ken (とっとりけん : 鳥取県)

32. Shimane-ken (しまねけん : 島根県)

33. Okayama-ken (おかやまけん : 岡山県)

34. Hiroshima-ken (ひろしまけん : 広島県)

35. Yamaguchi-ken (やまぐちけん : 山口県)

36. Kagawa-ken (かがわけん : 香川県)

37. Tokushima-ken とくしまけん : 徳島県)

38. Ehime-ken (えひめけん : 愛媛県)

39. Kochi-ken (こうちけん : 高知県)

40. Fukuoka-ken (ふくおかけん : 福岡県)

41. Saga-ken (さがけん : 佐賀県)

42. Nagasaki-ken (ながさきけん : 長崎県)

43. Oita-ken (おおいたけん : 大分県)

44. Kumamoto-ken (くまもとけん : 熊本県)

45. Miyzaki-ken (みやざきけん : 宮崎県)

46. Kagoshima-ken (かごしまけん : 鹿児島県)

47. Okinawa-ken (おきなわけん : 沖縄県)

The kanji symbol “ken,” 県, literally translates into the word prefecture. Saying “Ibaraki-ken” is the same as saying “Ibaraki prefecture.” The symbol fu, 府, means borough (a self-governing, incorporated town) or urban prefecture. The symbol “to,” 都, which can also be read as “miyako” means metropolis or capital. I assume the reason why “to” is only designated to the Tokyo prefecture is…yep you guessed it…because it’s where Tokyo, the capital of Japan, is located. I’m also guessing at this, but Kyoto was the capital city prior to Tokyo, and Osaka was considered to be Japan’s commercial center; this may be why it they use “fu” instead of the “ken” that the other prefectures use. The exact reasons why the prefectures have the names they do is a mystery to me, but in essence the meaning is the same, the endings reference the prefecture.

Usually when people refer to the prefectures, they just use the first part of the name. For example, I live in the Ibaraki-ken prefecture, but most Japanese people just refer to it as Ibaraki. The same goes for Tokyo-to (people just say Tokyo), or Kyoto-fu (just say Kyoto). In the US, the same rule applies, right? If someone asks where I’m from in the United States, I don’t have to say Georgia State (you could, but it’s just not common), I just say Georgia.

I’ve listed both the hiragana and kanji for the prefecture names, mainly because that’s how I’m learning them. Also, if you actually go to Japan, it is quite useful to know prefecture names (they come up in Japanese small talk more often than you might think). Being able to see and recognize the prefectures as they are written in Japanese is even better!

I made this video to show the different prefectures of Japan. I felt that making a video would be a creative method to learn more about Japanese Geography and possibly help someone else in the process. If you struggle with learning the Japanese prefectures, welcome to the club…I do, too. But hopefully, this video will shed some light on a very dim subject (for many foreigners).:

In later posts, we’ll cover of the Japan’s Regions and major cities in Japan as well.

To your knowledge,

Donald Ash

The following two tabs change content below.
Donald Ash is an ATLien expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last six years. While in aforesaid time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator, writer, designer, editor, programmer, and occasional bad artist of thejapanguy.com blog (that's just way too many hats, dude). Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.
  • eastlandgrl

    interesting, thanks

  • roclafamilia

    Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!

    • Donald Ash

      Thank you for reading, I have so many great things planned for this blog, and I just enjoy writing it. I try to update it everyday and I try to add things that I think are useful. Please check back for new videos, audio, articles, etc.

  • badmash

    I just signed up to your blogs rss feed. Will you post more on this subject?

    • Donald Ash

      Thanks for reading and for signing up for the RSS. I will absolutely be posting more on the subject. I’m trying to put the finishing touches on the videos, too. Hopefully they’ll give you a better idea of where everything is.


      Donald Ash

  • My cousin recommended this blog and she was totally right keep up the fantastic work!

    • Donald Ash

      Thank you for reading :)
      I appreciate the feeback!!

  • I always inspired by you, your thoughts and attitude, again, appreciate for this nice post.

    - Mark

    • Donald Ash

      I am happy to hear that you enjoy it. Thank you so much for reading!

  • Useful blog website, keep me personally through searching it, I am seriously interested to find out another recommendation of it.

  • Joshua Kramer

    It is impossible to say them out loud without laughing because the music is so silly.

    • Donald Ash

      Gotta keep it interesting, right? lol

  • yourkey8

    I noticed I had only a vague recollection of a conventional phrase to count Japanese prefectures, which all pupils know.
    Now, I can tell my grandson with confidence, as follows
    We have 1dou, 1to, 2fu and 43ken.
    (ichi-dou, itto, ni-fu, yonjuu-san-ken)

    hahaha! thank you.
    from 60 years old man, Unfortunately.

    • Donald Ash

      That’s really really useful! I was trying to find a way to teach myself the prefectures and was wondering about those. It’s a good mnemonic. I plan on posting the other prefectures very soon. I appreciate the tip. If you think of anymore prefecture tips that I miss, please post them. Someone else might find it useful, too.

      p.s.-60 years young :)

  • Marshall Gumaer

    Great blog! Very informative as well.
    Seeing as I want to teach English as a second language in Japan as well, I’ll more than likely be glued to this site for a long time.
    Hope to see more ^^
    Keep up the good work.

    • Donald Ash

      Thank you so much Marshall! I’m really happy to hear that you find my site useful. In the end that’s what I truly want for people. I’m in the process of doing a pretty big update, so please browse around, leave comments/questions, and enjoy it.

  • Jenni

    I just came across your blog; I used to live in Miyagi until August this year and I’m still studying Japanese. I sort of scoffed with laughter at the line, ‘I haven’t the foggiest idea where Miyagi is’…

    I’m rather sure you do now!

    Anyway, I still wanted to say, really enjoyed the blog page :)

    • Donald Ash

      Hi Jenni, thank you for stopping by my blog. Yes, I absolutely do know where Miyagi is now. I appreciate the positive feedback. Come back anytime, it’s always nice to talk to someone who’s lived here. I’m so curious about how you dealt with the earthquake and tsunamis when they happened.

  • Marten Hernebring

    Just 46 Kanji to master them all. I recommend this order.

    県ケン 山やま
    岡おか 岡山県
    福フク 福岡県
    島しま 福島県
    口くち 山口県
    形かた 山形県
    根ね  島根県
    富とむ 富山県
    徳トク 徳島県
    梨なし 山梨県
    井い  福井県
    石いし 石川県
    香か  香川県
    知 チ しる
    高コウ 高知県
    愛アイエ 愛知県
    媛ひめ 愛媛県
    野の  長野県
    崎さき 長崎県
    宮みや 宮崎県
    城キ   宮城県
    佐サ  佐賀県
    滋ジ シ滋賀県
    良 リョウ ラ
    奈ナ  奈良県
    神カミ カ 神奈川県
    大 おおきい
    分ワカル イタ 大分県
    阪さか 大阪府
    都ト  京都府
    東トウ 東京都
    森もり 青森県
    田   秋田県
    手て  岩手県
    新あたら にい
    潟かた 新潟県
    千 セン ち
    葉は  千葉県
    馬うま マ 群馬県
    木き  栃木県
    埼 さき さい
    玉たま 埼玉県
    岐 キ ギ
    阜フ  岐阜県
    三 サン みつ
    重え  三重県
    歌 カ うたう
    和ワ 和歌山県
    兵ヘイ ヒョウ
    庫コ  兵庫県
    取とり 鳥取県
    本 ホン もと
    熊くま 熊本県
    鹿 しか か
    児こ 鹿児島県
    縄なわ 沖縄県
    北ホク きた
    海カイ うみ
    道ドウ 北海道

    • dd


  • Fellow_Japanese_learner

    I was just curious, but WHERE DID YOU GET THAT INFO??? I’ve been puzzled over what the heck と、ど、andふ meant! I knew/surmised that 県 meant prefecture, but the others…. well I was totally at a loss as to what they meant @__@”. I looked in the back of my Japanese text book and all it did was list them together and said: “Prefecture, the largest administrative unit in Japan.” That was it. This was really helpful!! I look forward to reading more posts!

  • drei

    very helpful plus you really are a good teacher… thanks :D

    • Donald Ash

      Thank you andrea! :D

Read previous post:
Kyokushin Karate Tournament: Oyama City (Not Fighting…This Time)

Today I was cleaning up some of my videos, to empty my camera's memory, and I stumbled upon some Kyokushin...