Provinces of Japan (令制国, Ryōseikoku) were first-level administrative divisions of Japan from the 600s to 1868.
Provinces were established in Japan in the late 7th century under the Ritsuryō law system that formed the first central government. Each province was divided into districts (郡, gun) and grouped into one of the geographic regions or circuits known as the Gokishichidō (Five Home Provinces and Seven Circuits). Provincial borders often changed until the end of the Nara period (710 to 794), but remained unchanged from the Heian period (794 to 1185) until the Edo period (1603 to 1868). The provinces coexisted with the han (domain) system, the personal estates of feudal lords and warriors, and became secondary to the domains in the late Muromachi period (1336 to 1573).
The Provinces of Japan were replaced with the current prefecture system in the Fuhanken sanchisei during the Meiji Restoration from 1868 to 1871, except for Hokkaido, which was divided into provinces from 1869 to 1882. No order has ever been issued explicitly abolishing the provinces, but they are considered obsolete as administrative units. The provinces are still used in general conversation, especially in navigation and transportation, and referenced in products and geographical features of the prefectures covering their former territories.
The provinces were originally established by the Ritsuryō reforms as both administrative units and geographic regions. From the late Muromachi period, however, they were gradually supplanted by the domains of the sengoku daimyō . Under the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the provinces were supplemented as primary local administrative units. The local daimyōs' fiefs were developed.[ clarification needed ]
In the Edo period, the fiefs became known as han. Imperial provinces and shogunal domains made up complementary systems. For example, when the shōgun ordered a daimyō to make a census or to make maps, the work was organized in terms of the boundaries of the provincial kuni.
At the Meiji Restoration, the han were legitimized as administrative units by the reform known as the Fuhanken Sanchisei, but they were gradually replaced by prefectures between 1868 and 1871 (urban prefectures were called fu and rural prefectures ken). Provinces as part of the system of addresses were not abolished but, on the contrary, augmented. As of 1871, the number of prefectures was 304, while the number of provinces was 68, not including Hokkaidō or the Ryūkyū Islands. The boundaries between the many prefectures were not only very complicated, but also did not match those of the provinces. Prefectures were gradually merged to reduce the number to 37 by 1881; a few were then divided to give a total of 45 by 1885. Adding Hokkaidō and Okinawa produced the current total of 47 prefectures.
Provinces are classified into Kinai (in or near the capital, then Kyoto) and seven or eight dō (routes, or circuits), collectively known as the Gokishichidō . However, dō in this context should not be confused with modern traffic lines such as the Tōkaidō from Tokyo to Kyoto or Kobe. Also, Hokkaidō in this context should not be confused with Hokkaidō Prefecture, although these two overlap geographically.
No order has ever been issued explicitly abolishing the provinces, but they are considered obsolete. Nevertheless, their names are still widely used in names of natural features, company names, and brands. These province names are considered to be mainly of historical interest. They are also used for the names of items, including family names, most of which were popularized in or after the Edo period. Examples include sanuki udon, iyokan, tosa ken, Chikuzenni, and awa odori. Japan Rail and other railway stations also use them in names to distinguish themselves from similarly named stations in other prefectures, such as Musashi-Kosugi Station. The same is true for some city names, for example to distinguish Yamato-Koriyama, Nara from Koriyama, Fukushima. Simplified names of provinces (-shū) are also used, such as Shinshū soba and Kishū dog.
Some of the province names are used to indicate distinct parts of the current prefectures along with their cultural and geographical characteristics. In many cases these names are also in use with directional characters, e.g. Hoku-Setsu (北摂) meaning Northern (北)Settsu (摂津) area.
The districts are still considered prefectural subdivisions, but following mergers or divisions of the provinces they may be shared among several prefectures (such as the original Adachi District of Musashi, which is now divided between Adachi Ward in Tokyo and Kita-Adachi District in Saitama). Many of these old provincial districts have been dissolved as their chief towns have been merged into larger cities or towns. See individual prefecture pages for mergers and abolitions of districts.
The following list is based on the Gokishichidō (五畿七道), which includes short-lived provinces. Provinces located within Hokkaidō are listed last.
Equivalent to Shikoku and its surroundings, as well as a nearby area of Honshu
Equivalent to Kyushu and its surroundings
Equivalent to Hokkaido and its surroundings. Originally known as the Ezo Region, before being renamed and organized as 11 provinces (1869–1882).
Dewa Province was a province of Japan comprising modern-day Yamagata Prefecture and Akita Prefecture, except for the city of Kazuno and the town of Kosaka. Dewa bordered on Mutsu and Echigō Provinces. Its abbreviated form name was Ushū (羽州).
Mutsu Province was an old province of Japan in the area of Fukushima, Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori Prefectures and the municipalities of Kazuno and Kosaka in Akita Prefecture.
Rikuchū Province was an old province in the area of Iwate and Akita Prefectures. It was sometimes called Rikushū (陸州), with Rikuzen and Mutsu Provinces.
Rikuzen Province is an old province of Japan in the area of Miyagi Prefecture and parts of Iwate Prefecture. It was sometimes called Rikushū (陸州), with Rikuchū and Mutsu Provinces.
Tanba Province was an old province of Japan. The ambit of its borders encompassed both the central part of modern Kyōto Prefecture and the east-central part of Hyōgo Prefecture. It and the neighbouring Tango Province were collectively known as Tanshū (丹州). Besides Tango, Tanba bordered on Harima, Ōmi, Settsu, Tajima, Wakasa, and Yamashiro Provinces.
Tango Province was an old province in the area that is today northern Kyoto Prefecture facing the Sea of Japan. Together with Tanba Province, Tango was sometimes called Tanshū (丹州). Tango bordered on Tajima, Tanba, and Wakasa provinces.
Echigo Province was an old province in north-central Japan, on the shores of the Sea of Japan. It bordered on Uzen, Iwashiro, Kōzuke, Shinano, and Etchū Provinces. It corresponds today to Niigata Prefecture, minus the island of Sado.
Bizen Province was a province of Japan on the Inland Sea side of Honshū, in what is today the southeastern part of Okayama Prefecture. It was sometimes called Bishū (備州), with Bitchū and Bingo Provinces. Bizen borders Mimasaka, Harima, and Bitchū Provinces.
Bitchū Province was a province of Japan on the Inland Sea side of western Honshū, in what is today western Okayama Prefecture. It was sometimes called Bishū (備州), with Bizen and Bingo Provinces; those three provinces were settled in the late 7th Century, dividing former Kibi Province. Bitchu bordered Hōki, Mimasaka, Bizen, and Bingo Provinces.
Bingo Province was a province of Japan on the Inland Sea side of western Honshū, comprising what is today the eastern part of Hiroshima Prefecture. It was sometimes grouped together with Bizen and Bitchu Provinces as Bishū (備州). The 備 bi in the names of these provinces is taken from the second character in the name of Kibi Province, whose ambit also included the area that would be divided off as Mimasaka Province in the early 8th century CE. Bingo bordered Bitchū, Hōki, Izumo, Iwami, and Aki Provinces.
Bungo Province was a province of Japan in eastern Kyūshū in the area of Ōita Prefecture. It was sometimes called Hōshū (豊州), with Buzen Province. Bungo bordered Buzen, Hyūga, Higo, Chikugo, and Chikuzen Provinces.
Kibi Province was an ancient province or region of Japan, in the same area as Okayama Prefecture and eastern Hiroshima Prefecture. It was sometimes called Bishū (備州).
The Rikuu East Line is a railway line in Japan, operated by the East Japan Railway Company. It connects Kogota Station in Misato, Miyagi Prefecture to Shinjō Station in Shinjō, Yamagata Prefecture, acting as a connector between the Tōhoku Main Line, Ōu Main Line, and Tōhoku Shinkansen in the southern Tōhoku region, and provides access to north-western Miyagi Prefecture and north-eastern Yamagata Prefecture.
The Ōu Mountains are a mountain range in the Tōhoku region of Honshū, Japan. The range is the longest range in Japan and stretches 500 km (311 mi) south from the Natsudomari Peninsula of Aomori Prefecture to the Nasu volcanoes at the northern boundary of the Kantō region. Though long, the range is only about 35 kilometres (22 mi) wide. The highest point in the range is Mount Iwate, 2,038 metres (6,686 ft).
The Rikuu West Line is a railway line in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, operated by the East Japan Railway Company. It connects Shinjō Station to Amarume Station, and trains continue on to Sakata Station, even though it is not officially a part of the Rikuu West Line.
Mutsu Province, officially called Rikuō Province was an old province of Japan in the area of Iwate and Aomori prefecture.
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Detailed maps of the provinces at different times can be found at: