Prefectures of Japan, Background

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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

The West's use of "prefecture" to label these regions of Japan stems from 15th-century Portuguese explorers' and traders' use of "prefeitura" to describe the fiefdoms they encountered there. Its original sense in Portuguese, however, was closer to "municipality" than "province". (Today, in turn, Japan uses its word ken (), meaning "prefecture", to identify Portuguese districts.)

Those fiefs were headed by a local warlord or family, and despite that those fiefs have long since been dismantled, merged, and reorganized numerous times over, and given legislative governance and oversight, the rough translation stuck.

The current system was established by the Meiji government in July 1871 with the abolition of the han system and establishment of the prefecture system (廃藩置県 haihan-chiken). Although there were initially over 300 prefectures, many of them being former han territories, this number was reduced to 72 in the latter part of 1871, and 47 in 1888. The Local Autonomy Law of 1947 gave more political power to prefectures, and installed prefectural governors and parliaments.

In 2003, then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi proposed that the government consolidate the current prefectures into about 10 regional states. The plan called for each region to have greater autonomy than existing prefectures. This process would reduce the number of sub-prefecture administrative regions and cut administrative costs. The Japanese government is also considering a plan by which several groups of prefectures would merge, creating a sub-national administrative division system consisting of between nine and thirteen states, and giving these states more local autonomy than the current prefectures enjoy. , no reorganization has been scheduled.

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