Prefectures of Japan, ''Dō''

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Summary

The 47 prefectures of Japan form Japan's first level of jurisdiction and administrative division. They consist of 43 proper, two , one and one .

Details

Hokkaido is referred to as a (道) or circuit. This term was originally used to refer to regions of Japan consisting of several provinces (e.g. the Tōkaidō east coast region and Saikaidō west coast region). This was also a historical usage of the character in China. (In Korea this historical usage remains in use today and was kept during the period of Japanese rule.)

Hokkaido, the only remaining today, was not one of the original seven (it was known as Ezo in the pre-modern era). Its current name is believed to originate from Matsuura Takeshiro, an early Japanese explorer of the island. Since Hokkaido did not fit into the existing classifications, a new was created to cover it.

The Meiji government originally classified Hokkaido as a "Settlement Envoyship" (開拓使 kaitakushi), and later divided the island into three prefectures (Sapporo, Hakodate, and Nemuro). These were consolidated into a single Hokkaido Department (北海道庁 Hokkaido-chō) in 1886, at prefectural level but organized more along the lines of a territory. In 1947, the Department was dissolved, and Hokkaido became a full-fledged prefecture. The -ken suffix was never added to its name, so the -dō suffix came to be understood to mean "prefecture."

When Hokkaido was incorporated, transportation on the island was still very underdeveloped, so the prefecture was split into several "sub-prefectures" (支庁 shichō) that could fulfill administrative duties of the prefectural government and keep tight control over the developing island. These sub-prefectures still exist today, although they have much less power than they possessed before and during World War II: they now exist primarily to handle paperwork and other bureaucratic functions.

"Hokkaido Prefecture" is, technically speaking, a redundant term, although it is occasionally used to differentiate the government from the island itself. The government of the prefecture calls itself the "Hokkaido Government" rather than the "Hokkaido Prefectural Government".

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