Japan is divided into 47 prefectures, 43 of which are (prefectures proper), one of which (Tokyo) is a to (metropolitan prefecture); one (Hokkaido) is a dō (district), and two (Ōsaka and Kyōto) are fu (urban prefectures). Prefectures, which are administered by governors and assemblies, vary considerably both in area and in population. The largest prefecture is Hokkaido, with an area of 32,246 square miles, while the smallest is Ōsaka, with 720 square miles. The most populous prefecture is Tokyo, and the least populous is Tottori. A prefecture is further subdivided into minor civil divisions; these include the city (shi), town (machi or chō), and village (mura or son). All these local government units have their own mayors, or chiefs, and assemblies. Before World War II there were also counties (gun ), consisting of towns and villages but excluding cities within a prefecture. This county system survives only in the form of statistical units.
An intermediate level of governmental services is formed between the central and prefecture levels. The branch offices of several central ministries are located in certain cities, which—as regional centres—generally administer several prefectures together. Designated cities (shitei toshi), which must have populations of at least 500,000 each, are divided into wards (ku). These cities include (in the order of their designation) Yokohama,Ōsaka, Nagoya, Kyōto, Kōbe, Kita-Kyūshū, Sapporo, Kawasaki, Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Chiba, and Sendai. A ward has a chief and an assembly, the former being nominated by the mayor and the latter elected by the residents. Tokyo has 23 special wards (tokubetsu ku), the chiefs of which are elected by the residents. These special wards, created after the metropolitan prefecture was established in 1943, demarcate the city of Tokyo from the other cities and towns that make up the metropolitan prefecture; the city proper, however, no longer exists as an administrative unit. "Japan" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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