Provinces of Japan

Before the modern prefecture system was established, the land of Japan was divided into tens of kuni (国, countries). The English-language term provinces is used to encompass all of these units. Each province was divided into gun earlier kōri (郡, counties).

The provinces were originally established as both administrative units and geographic regions. In the late Muromachi period however, their function as administrative units was effectively and gradually supplanted by each domains of sengoku-daimyo. Under the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the provinces as administrative units were totally replaced with daimyos' fiefs. In the Edo period, the fiefs became known as han. The provinces remained as a geographical units and people referred often a certain place with a couple of province and han.

At the Meiji restoration, the han were legitimized as administrative units but quickly replaced by fu (urban prefectures) and ken (rural prefectures). Provinces as part of the address system, meanwhile, were not abolished but, on the contrary, augumented. As of 1871, the number of prefectures was 304, while the number of provinces was 68, not including Hokkaido and Ryukyu Province. 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 by 1885 of 45. Adding Hokkaido and Okinawa produces the current total of 47 prefectures.

To date, no official order has been issued abolishing provinces. Provinces are nonetheless today considered obsolete. However, their names are still widely used as parts of natural feature names, company names, and brands. In the early 2000s, the governor of Nagano Prefecture proposed the renaming of his prefecture as "Shinshu" (a name derived from Shinano Province).

Provinces are classified into kinai (within the capital), and seven or eight do (routes, or circuits). Note that, however, do in this context should not be confused with modern traffic lines such as Tokaido from Tokyo to Kyoto or Kobe. Also, Hokkaido in this context should not be confused with Hokkaido Prefecture, although these two overlap geographically.


Early eighth century

  • Kinai 畿内 (
    • Yamato 大和国 (then imperial seat) (written as 倭国 in ancient times until the reign of Genmei Tennō, who established Japan's first permanent capital at Nara, which is located within this province, in 710 CE)
    • Kawachi 河内国
    • Settsu 摂津国
    • Yamashiro 山城国 (formerly also written as 山背国 or 山代国; this is the province in which Kyoto is located)
  • Tosando 東山道 (East-Mountain-Route)
  • Tokaido 東海道 (East-Sea-Route)
    • Iga 伊賀国
    • Ise 伊勢国
    • Shima 志摩国
    • Owari 尾張国
    • Mikawa 三河国
    • Totomi 遠江国 (literally "Far Freshwater Sea," see Lake Hamanako)
    • Suruga 駿河国
    • Izu 伊豆国
    • Kai 甲斐国
    • Sagami 相模国
    • Kazusa 上総国 (literally "Upper Fusa," part of ancient Fusa Province)
    • Shimo-Usa 下総国 (literally "Lower Fusa," part of ancient Fusa Province)
    • Hitachi 常陸国 (literally "Sun-Rise," i.e. /hi-tachi/, implying the east end, but the Chinese characters used to write the name actually mean "Always-Land," i.e. /hita-chi/)
  • Hokurikudo 北陸道 (North-Land-Route)
  • San'indo 山陰道 (Mountain-Back-Route)
    • Tamba 丹波国
    • Tajima 但馬国
    • Inaba 因幡国
    • Hoki 伯耆国
    • Izumo 出雲国
    • Iwami 石見国
    • Oki 隠岐国 (a group of several islands in the Sea of Japan north of Shimane Prefecture)
  • San'yodo 山陽道 (Mountain-Front-Route)
  • Nankaido 南海道 (South-Sea-Route)
    • Kii 紀伊国 (also called Ki)
    • Awaji 淡路国 (literally Path to Awa Province; the largest island in the Seto Inland Sea, located between the Kii Peninsula of Honshu to the east and the island of Shikoku to the west)
    • Awa 阿波国
    • Sanuki 讃岐国
    • Iyo 伊予国
    • Tosa 土佐国
  • Saikaido 西海道 (West-Sea-Route)

Early ninth century to Meiji restoration

After Meiji restoration (1868)

Some brief periods

    • Chichibu (some time before 645, merged into Musashi)
    • Aizu (some time before 645, merged into Mutsu)
    • Ho (some time before 645, merged into Mikawa)
    • Shinaga (some time before 645, merged into Sagami)
    • Izumi Gen (circa 716 to circa 738, divided from Kawachi)
    • Yoshino Gen (circa 716 to circa 738, divided from Yamato)
    • Suwa (circa 721 to circa 738, divided from Shinano)
    • Iwaki (circa 718 to circa 724, divided from Mutsu)
    • Iwase (circa 718 to circa 724, divided from Mutsu)


These province names are considered to be mainly of historical interest; however, there is no record that these names were ever officially abolished.

See also

Detailed maps of the provinces at different times can be found at:

Template:Japan Old Provinceja:令制国一覧 zh:日本令制國列表


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