Districts of Japan

Last updated
Modern districts of Japan. Cities (white areas) are not part of districts. Japan districts.png
Modern districts of Japan. Cities (white areas) are not part of districts.
Former district government office of Higashiyamanashi, Yamanashi (reconstruction at Meiji-mura museum) Government Office in Higashi Yamanashi.jpg
Former district government office of Higashiyamanashi, Yamanashi (reconstruction at Meiji-mura museum)
District assembly of Kawabe, Akita in 1923. All assemblies would be abolished by 1926. Kawabe District Assembly.jpg
District assembly of Kawabe, Akita in 1923. All assemblies would be abolished by 1926.

In Japan, a district (, gun) is composed of one or more rural municipalities (towns or villages) within a prefecture. Districts have no governing function, and are only used for geographic or statistical purposes such as mailing addresses. Cities are not part of districts.

Contents

Historically, districts have at times functioned as an administrative unit. From 1878 [1] to 1921 [2] district governments were roughly equivalent to a county of the United States, ranking below prefecture and above town or village, on the same level as a city. [3] District governments were entirely abolished by 1926. [2]

History

The bureaucratic administration of Japan is divided into three basic levels: national, prefectural, and municipal. Below the national government there are 47 prefectures, six of which are further subdivided into subprefectures to better service large geographical areas or remote islands. The municipalities (cities, towns and villages) are the lowest level of government; the twenty most-populated cities outside Tokyo Metropolis are known as designated cities and are subdivided into wards. The district was initially called kōri and has ancient roots in Japan. Although the Nihon Shoki says they were established during the Taika Reforms, kōri was originally written . [4] It was not until the Taihō Code that kōri came to be written as (imitating the Chinese division). Under the Taihō Code, the administrative unit of province (, kuni) was above district, and the village ( or sato) was below.

As the power of the central government decayed (and in some periods revived) over the centuries, the provinces and districts, although never formally abolished and still connected to administrative positions handed out by the Imperial court (or whoever controlled it), largely lost their relevance as administrative units and were superseded by a hierarchy of feudal holdings. In the Edo period, the primary subdivisions were the shogunate cities, governed by urban administrators (machi-bugyō), the shogunate domain ( bakuryō , usually meant to include the smaller holdings of Hatamoto, etc.), major holdings (han/domains), and there was also a number of minor territories such as spiritual (shrine/temple) holdings; while the shogunate domain comprised vast, contiguous territories, domains consisted of generally only one castle and castle town, usually a compact territory in the surrounding area, but beyond that sometimes a string of disconnected exclaves and enclaves, in some cases distributed over several districts in several provinces. For this reason alone, they were impractical as geographical units, and in addition, Edo period feudalism was tied to the nominal income of a territory, not the territory itself, so the shogunate could and did redistribute territories between domains, their borders were generally subject to change, even if in some places holdings remained unchanged for centuries. Provinces and districts remained the most important geographical frame of reference throughout the middle and early modern ages up to the restoration and beyond – initially, the prefectures were created in direct succession to the shogunate era feudal divisions and their borders kept shifting through mergers, splits and territorial transfers until they reached largely their present state in the 1890s.

Districts in 1869, before administrative functions were introduced in 1878. After cities were separated in 1889, districts gradually became smaller. (Provincial borders in red.) Japan map 1869.png
Districts in 1869, before administrative functions were introduced in 1878. After cities were separated in 1889, districts gradually became smaller. (Provincial borders in red.)

Cities (-shi), since their introduction in 1889, have always belonged directly to prefectures and are independent from districts. Before 1878, districts had subdivided the whole country with only few exceptions (Edo/Tokyo as shogunate capital and some island groups). In 1878, the districts were reactivated as administrative units, but the major cities were separated from the districts. All prefectures (at that time only -fu and -ken) were – except for some remote islands – contiguously subdivided into [rural] districts/counties (-gun) and urban districts/cites (-ku), the precursors to the 1889 shi. Geographically, the rural districts were mainly based on the ancient districts, but in many places they were merged, split up or renamed, in some areas, prefectural borders went through ancient districts and the districts were reorganized to match; urban districts were completely separated from the rural districts, most of them covered one city at large, but the largest and most important cities, the Edo period "three capitals" Edo/Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka comprised several urban districts. (This refers only to the city areas which were not organized as a single administrative unit before 1889, not the prefectures Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka which had initially been created in 1868 as successor to the shogunate city administrations, but were soon expanded to surrounding shogunate rural domain and feudal holdings and by 1878 also contained rural districts and in the case of Osaka, one other urban district/city from 1881.)

District administrations were set up in 1878, but district assemblies were only created in 1890 with the introduction of the district code (gunsei) as part of the Prussian-influenced local government reforms of 1888–90. From the 1890s, district governments were run by a collective executive council (gun-sanjikai, 郡参事会), headed by the appointed district chief (gunchō) and consisting of 3 additional members elected by the district assembly and one appointed by the prefectural governor – similar to cities (shi-sanjikai, headed by the mayor) and prefectures (fu-/ken-sanjikai, headed by the governor).

In 1921, Hara Takashi, the first non-oligarchic prime minister (although actually from a Morioka domain samurai family himself, but in a career as commoner-politician in the House of Representatives), managed to get his long-sought abolition of the districts passed – unlike the municipal and prefectural assemblies which had been an early platform for the Freedom and People's Rights Movement before the Imperial Diet was established and became bases of party power, the district governments were considered to be a stronghold of anti-liberal Yamagata Aritomo's followers and the centralist-bureaucratic Home Ministry tradition. The district assemblies and governments were abolished a few years later.

Districts today

As of today, towns and villages also belong directly to prefectures; the districts no longer possess any administrations or assemblies since the 1920s, and therefore also no administrative authority – although there was a brief de facto reactivation of the districts during the Pacific War in the form of prefectural branch offices (called chihō jimusho, 地方事務所, "local offices/bureaus") which generally had one district in their jurisdiction. However, for geographical and statistical purposes, districts continue to be used and are updated for municipal mergers or status changes: if a town or village (countrywide: >15,000 in 1889, <1,000 today) is merged into or promoted to a [by definition: district-independent] city (countrywide: 39 in 1889, 791 in 2017), [5] [6] the territory is no longer counted as part of the district. In this way, many districts have become extinct, and many of those that still exist contain only a handful of or often only one remaining municipality as many of today's towns and villages are also much larger than in the Meiji era. The districts are used primarily in the Japanese addressing system and to identify the relevant geographical areas and collections of nearby towns and villages.

Confusing cases in Hokkaidō

Because district names had been unique within a single province and as of 2008 prefecture boundaries are roughly aligned to provincial boundaries, most district names are unique within their prefectures.

Hokkaidō Prefecture, however, came much later to the ritsuryō provincial system, only a few years before the prefectural system was introduced, so its eleven provinces included several districts with the same names:

See also

Related Research Articles

Prefectures of Japan Overview of the prefectures of Japan

Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, which rank immediately below the national government and form the country's first level of jurisdiction and administrative division. They include 43 prefectures proper, two urban prefectures, one "circuit" or "territory" and one metropolis. In 1868, the Meiji Fuhanken sanchisei administration created the first prefectures to replace the urban and rural administrators in the parts of the country previously controlled directly by the shogunate and a few territories of rebels/shogunate loyalists who had not submitted to the new government such as Aizu/Wakamatsu. In 1871, all remaining feudal domains (han) were also transformed into prefectures, so that prefectures subdivided the whole country. In several waves of territorial consolidation, today's 47 prefectures were formed by the turn of the century. In many instances, these are contiguous with the ancient ritsuryō provinces of Japan.

Hokkaido Prefecture had 14 branch offices called 支庁 (shichō) in Japanese, which is often translated in English as subprefectures. Normally, a subprefecture consists of a few to a dozen cities, towns, and/or villages. From April 2010, Hokkaido has 9 General Subprefectural Bureaus and 5 Subprefectural Bureaus ).

Sorachi Subprefecture Place in Hokkaido

Sorachi Subprefecture is a subprefecture of Hokkaido Prefecture, Japan. As of 2004, its estimated population is 373,736 and its area is 6,558.26 km².

Tokyo Prefecture (1868–1943) Former Japanese government entity

Tokyo Prefecture was a Japanese government entity that existed between 1868 and 1943.

Kamikawa is the name of several places in Japan:

Kamikawa (Ishikari) District, Hokkaido

Kamikawa is a district located in Kamikawa Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan. Confusingly, there is a district of the same name, Kamikawa (Teshio) District, in the h. subprefecture. In 1869, when Hokkaido was divided into 11 provinces and 86 districts, this Kamikawa District was placed under Ishikari Province. The name is derived from its location at the headwaters of the Ishikari River, whereas the other Kamikawa District is named after the headwaters of the Teshio River. There is a third district in Hokkaido with the same name, see Kamikawa (Tokachi) District.

Sorachi District, Hokkaido

Sorachi is a district divided between Sorachi and Kamikawa Subprefectures, Hokkaido, Japan. As of 2004, the district has an estimated population of 53,011 and an area of 1,497.21 km2, giving a population density of 35.41 persons per square kilometer.

Kamikawa (Teshio) District, Hokkaido

Kamikawa is a district located in Kamikawa Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan. Confusingly, there is a district of the same name, Kamikawa (Ishikari) District, in the same subprefecture. In 1869, when Hokkaido was divided into 11 provinces and 86 districts, this Kamikawa District was placed under Teshio Province. The name is derived from its location at the headwaters of the Teshio River, whereas the other Kamikawa District is named after the headwaters of the Ishikari River. There is a third district with this name in Hokkaido, see Kamikawa (Tokachi) District.

Nakagawa (Teshio) District, Hokkaido

Nakagawa is a district located in Kamikawa Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan. There is a district with the same name in Tokachi Subprefecture, see Nakagawa (Tokachi) District, Hokkaido.

Kasai District, Hokkaido

Kasai is a district located in Tokachi Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan.

Nakagawa (Tokachi) District, Hokkaido

Nakagawa (Tokachi) is a district located in Tokachi Subprefecture, Hokkaido, Japan. There is a district with the same name in Kamikawa Subprefecture, see Nakagawa (Teshio) District, Hokkaido.

The bureaucratic administration of Japan is divided into three basic levels; national, prefectural, and municipal.

Ishikari Province Former province of Japan

Ishikari Province was a short-lived province located in Hokkaidō. It corresponded to modern-day Ishikari Subprefecture minus Chitose and Eniwa, all of Sorachi Subprefecture and the southern half of Kamikawa Subprefecture excluding Shimukappu

Teshio Province Former province of Japan

Teshio Province was a short-lived province located in Hokkaidō, corresponding to all of modern-day Rumoi Subprefecture and the northern half of Kamikawa Subprefecture.

Tokachi Province Former province of Japan

Tokachi Province was a short-lived province in Hokkaidō. It corresponded to modern-day Tokachi Subprefecture.

In 1869, the island of Hokkaido, Japan was divided into 11 provinces and 86 districts. The majority of Japan's former provinces were converted into prefectures by the Meiji government between 1870 and 1876.

Chiba District, Chiba

Chiba was a district located in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

The geography and administrative subdivisions of Japan have evolved and changed during the course of its history. These were sometimes grouped according to geographic position.

References

  1. Entry for the gun-ku-chō-son-hensei-hō/"Law on the organization of ku (urban districts/cities&wards), gun (rural districts), chō (urban settlements/towns/neighbourhoods) and son (villages/rural settlements)", the 1878 law that reactivated the districts as administrative units, in the National Diet Library Nihon hōrei sakuin/"Index of Japanese laws and ordinances" (contains list of changes to the law, list of laws changed by it and links to full text in online archives)
  2. 1 2 The governing law, the district code (gunsei, 郡制; Entry for the 1890 original and entry for the revised 1899 gunsei in the National Diet Library Nihon hōrei sakuin/"Index of Japanese laws and ordinances"), was abolished in 1921, but the district assemblies (gunkai, 郡会) existed until 1923, the district chiefs (gunchō, 郡長) and district offices (gun-yakusho, 郡役所) until 1926.
  3. Japan Counties
  4. Masashi Kinoshita 木下 正史 (2003). Fujiwara-kyō 藤原京 (in Japanese). Chūō Kōronsha. p. 64. The discovery of thousands of mokkan wooden tablets in a buried moat around the ancient capital of Fujiwara-kyō confirmed the theory that kōri had originally been written with the character 評, and not the character 郡 that appears in the Nihon Shoki.
  5. MIC: Change of the number of municipalities and characteristics of the Great Meiji and Shōwa mergers (in Japanese)
  6. Zenkoku shichōkai ("Japan Association of City Mayors" [special ward mayors are also members, but not part of the name]; title bar contains current/recent number of cities and special wards)

Bibliography