Japan consists of 5 major islands; Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu, Okinawa, and Shikoku. The country can also be divided into 9 regions. Within these nine regions there are 47 provinces or states which are commonly referred to as prefectures. This map takes about 7 1/2 minutes to download but it'll be helpful in getting an idea of where these prefectures and their capitals lie.
The Japanese language identifies a prefectural name by attaching a suffix of -to, -do, -fu, or -ken. Each prefecture's suffix has been noted in the prefectural lists. When referring to a prefecture it is strongly advised that the appropriate suffix be noted in one's research notes, incorporated into one's vocabulary, and used in future search requests. The reason? Many prefectures share names with their capital cities. Aomori-ken, for example, is a prefectural name referring to large area similar to a province or state. Aomori-shi however (note -shi suffix) refers to a city and much smaller area. Noting and using the appropriate suffixes will increase your chances of reaching the appropriate audience. (For a list defining other commonly used location suffixes see this page.)
Those hearty folks who make their happy homes on one of Japan's many smaller islands may feel left out if we don't make mention of them. Japan is made up of loads of smaller islands. That tiny island whose name you heard of through an older relative but can't seem to locate likely does exist and is undoubtedly a lead worth pursuing - can you imagine the great food, atmosphere, and unspoiled views island life must offer? (Let's go!) Unfortunately the pursuit will involve a bit of extra effort as the names of all Japanese islands don't appear on this map. You might give the large map a try although a travel atlas of Japan will likely be your best bet in locating the smaller islands. One suggested book would be Japan: A Bilingual Atlas published by Kodansha International, ISBN 4-7700-1536-4. If you know the name of an island an Internet search performed on the name may yield some helpful results.
The following pages (divided into categories by major islands) list each island's prefectures and each prefecture's capital (capitals are called kenchoushozaichi in Japanese). There is also an alphabetical list for those of you who may be unsure of the island but who know the name of the prefecture.
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Click on the above map to see a large detailed (though slow loading) version. Takes about 7 1/2 minutes to download.
Thanks to Debbie McMillin-Ito for creating this page.
Updated July 10, 1998