Japan is smaller than countries like the United States and China, but it has 47 prefectures. From Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, the Japanese archipelago is really more than 3,000 kilometers long. This makes it a country with a wide variety of climates and four distinct seasons. Here is a brief introduction of the 47 prefectures grouped by 9 regions: Hokkaido, Tohoku, Chubu, Kanto, Kansai, Chugoku, Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa. Please take a look at the following as a reference when you visit Japan.
(From north to south)
Hokkaido is the largest prefecture in Japan. It includes Hokkaido Island, the second largest in Japan after Honshu, and a number of other islands. Hokkaido is at about the same latitude as southern France, but, located at the northernmost end of Japan, it is cold in the winter and the summers are short. You can enjoy there a variety of foods. It is famous for its fish and shellfish such as salmon and crab, potatoes and other farm products, and dairy products. The Ainu people, who are indigenous residents of Japan, live in Hokkaido.
Aomori Prefecture is located in the northernmost part of Honshu. Its cold weather is suitable for growing apples, and it ranks first in apple production in the country. Also it is famous for the Nebuta Festival. The Shirakami Mountains, ranging from the southwestern part of this prefecture to Akita, have been registered in the World Nature Legacy as having the world’s largest virgin beech tree forest.
Iwate Prefecture is the second largest prefecture in area. It is located in the north of Honshu, facing the Pacific Ocean. The prefecture is blessed with beautiful nature, such as a long, natural sawtooth coastline and Mt. Iwate, also known as Nambu‐Fuji. Among the celebrities from this prefecture are Miyazawa Kenji and Ishikawa Takuboku, both of whom were famous poets. It is also well known as a center of folklore.
Yamagata Prefecture is located in northern Honshu and faces the Sea of Japan on the west. Most of its terrain is mountainous, though the mouth of the prefecture’s major river, the Mogami, forms a plain. Agriculture and forestry are among the major industries in this prefecture, and its cherry production is known as the largest in Japan. Yamagata also has many hot spring and ski resorts. Among them Zao, which lies on the border with Miyagi Prefecture, is particularly well known for both its hot spring and ski resorts.
Miyagi Prefecture is located in northern Honshu and faces the Pacific Ocean to the east. Fishing is one of its main activities, and it is famous for producing large amounts of sardines, tuna and mackerel. In the western part of the prefecture, there are several leisure spots, including ski slopes and hot springs, with Zao and Naruko among the most famous. The Tanabata Festival in Sendai City, the capital of the prefecture, is held yearly in summer. In addition, Matsushima is the prefecture’s representative tourist attraction and is known as one of the three most scenic spots in Japan. It was visited by Matsuo Basho, a haiku poet of the Edo period, and appears in the “Narrow Road to the Interior”.
Fukushima Prefecture is located in northern Honshu in the southernmost part of the Tohoku district and faces the Pacific Ocean to the east. It generally has hot summers and cold winters. The prefecture’s major industry is agriculture, and a wide variety of crops are produced there. In addition to rice and vegetables and fruit such as cucumbers, tomatoes, peaches and pears, tobacco is also grown in large amounts. Ouchi-juku was the name of an inn on the Aizu West Highway during the Edo period (1603-1868), and even today, thatched-roof houses line the road, giving visitors the feeling of being transported back to the Edo period.
Niigata Prefecture faces the Sea of Japan to the north. This prefecture usually receives heavy snow in winter, and in some areas the snow often reaches more than four meters in depth. The Niigata plain stretches across the center of the prefecture and the Shinano, the longest river in Japan, runs through it. This plain is famous as a rice‐producing district that is distinguished for both the quantity and quality of its rice.
Ishikawa Prefecture is located in central Japan and faces the Japan Sea. The Kenrokuen Garden, one of Japan’s three greatest gardens, and Mt. Hakusan, one of Japan’s three major mountains, are among the popular destinations for tourists from all over the country. Various traditional handicrafts have been well preserved, the most typical of which are Wajima lacquerware, Kutani porcelain and Kaga yuzen, or colorfully dyed silk fabrics.
Toyama Prefecture is located in central Honshu on the Sea of Japan. On the north it faces Toyama Bay, which abounds with firefly squid, yellowtail tuna, crab and other marine products. The prefecture also produces a large amount of rice. The Northern Alps rise to the south. The northwest seasonal winds from the Sea of Japan bring heavy snowfall in the winter. The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is one of the most famous mountain tourist routes in the world, running through the Northern Alps, where the mountains are 3,000 meters high, and the walls of the snow corridor are more than 10 meters high even in mid-May.
Nagano Prefecture is a landlocked prefecture. It has mountains higher than 3,000 meters and is called “the Roof of Japan.” With its favorable geographical and climate conditions, there are many ski resorts and skating rinks and winter sports are popular. The 18th Winter Olympics were held in Nagano in 1998.
Fukui Prefecture is located in central Honshu and faces the Sea of Japan to the north. The climate is typical of the Sea of Japan coast: cloudy and humid. The northern part of the prefecture receives heavy rainfall and snowfall. Fukui is closely tied to the Kansai area, which for a long time has been a major commercial and political center in Japan. In the Edo period, Tsuruga played a key role in trade along the Sea of Japan coast. Today, power plants in this prefecture provide electricity to the heavily populated Kansai area. Famous Echizen Ono Castle rises in the morning mist, a fantastic castle in the sky overlooking the cities in Hokuriku.
Gifu Prefecture is a landlocked prefecture located near the center of Japan. To the northeast it is bordered by the Hida Mountains, which reach heights of 3,000 meters and form part of the Japan Alps. Among the many famous tourist sites in Gifu Prefecture is the village of Shirakawa, which has been designated a world cultural heritage site for its traditional houses in the “gassho‐zukuri” style. Also the narrow streets of Hidatakayama, where the old streets still remain, are lined with numerous small museums and wooden merchant houses that date back to the Edo period.
Yamanashi Prefecture, a landlocked prefecture, is located to the west of Tokyo in central Honshu. The growing of fruit flourishes in the Kofu Basin, in which lies the city of Kofu, the prefectural capital. The production of grapes and peaches is famous and wine is produced abundantly in this prefecture. Yamanashi has many tourist attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Fujigoko (five lakes around Mt. Fuji), the Yatsugatake mountains and the Southern Japan Alps, where you can enjoy beautiful natural scenery.
Aichi Prefecture includes Nagoya (one of the biggest cities in Japan), and has the fourth biggest population in the country. Toyota, a world‐famous automaker, has its head office in a city named Toyota after the company. The ceramics industry, which is centered in Seto and Tokoname, is also famous. “Setomono” (literally meaning “ceramics produced in Seto”) has become a synonym for ceramics.
Shizuoka Prefecture is located in central Honshu on the Pacific coast. Its mild climate favors the cultivation of mandarin oranges and green tea, which are the most famous specialties of this prefecture. On Lake Hamana people are engaged in eel cultivation. In the industries of this prefecture, musical instruments, motorcycles and automobiles are important items. Hot springs such as Yugashima and Atagawa are part of the Fuji‐Hakone‐Izu National Park. And with its many spots of beauty, the park attracts many tourists.
Gunma Prefecture is a landlocked prefecture, located in central Honshu to the northwest of Tokyo. The whole area is mountainous except for the southeastern part, and in the north there’s a high range of mountains in the 2,000‐meter class. This prefecture is blessed with natural beauty such as many lakes and ravines. The high moorland of Oze is especially famous for its unique flora. Gunma Prefecture is also home to one of Japan’s most famous hot springs, Kusatsu Onsen.
Tochigi Prefecture is located in central Honshu. A part of this prefecture belongs to Nikko National Park and is one of Japan’s scenic spots. In this area, most visitors are attracted by the Toshogu shrine, dedicated to Tokugawa Ieyasu, and other temples and shrines. There are also many sites of natural beauty, such as Lake Chuzenji and Kegon waterfall.
Ibaraki Prefecture has made progress in various fields, from agriculture and fishery (thanks to its favorable geography) to advanced technology and nuclear power. Mito, which had much to do with the Tokugawa clan, is now well‐known for Kairakuen Garden (one of Japan’s three greatest gardens). It is also the country’s biggest producer of “Natto.”
Saitama Prefecture is located to the north of Tokyo. Although it has a prosperous agricultural economy that serves the Tokyo area, the prefecture has also become increasingly urban, especially in the south. Saitama’s population has increased at one of the fastest rates in Japan. In 2001, the cities of Urawa, Omiya and Yono merged to form Saitama City, a metropolice with a population over one million. Many tourists come to Saitama from other areas to visit attractions such as the former castle town of Kawagoe and the city of Chichibu, which has many vineyards and other agricultural facilities that are open to visitors.
There is also the Saitama Super Arena in the prefectural capital. It is one of the largest multipurpose arenas in Japan, with a maximum capacity of 37,000 seats, and can be used for a variety of purposes, including sporting events, concerts, TV program recording, lectures, shareholders’ meetings, and trade fair venues. It has been established as a “holy ground for martial arts” along with Korakuen Hall because of the big mixed martial arts matches that are usually held on New Year’s Eve.
Chiba Prefecture is located in central Honshu on the Pacific Ocean. The climate is in general mild, and there are truck farms and dairy farms as well as rice fields here and there. The New Tokyo International Airport in Narita plays a key role in international air transport in Japan. A major attraction is Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983.
The Tokyo Metropolis (also called just “Tokyo”) is the capital of Japan. Located on the Pacific Ocean side of central Honshu, it consists of 23 ku, or wards, which correspond to cities; 26 cities; and 13 towns and villages. Tokyo also includes a number of islands such as Iwo Jima, which was a site of fierce battles during the Second World War. Sometimes the name “Tokyo” refers to only the 23 “ku.” Tokyo became Japan’s political center at the start of the Edo Period. Now it is home to some twelve million people, about one‐tenth of Japan’s total population, and it is the country’s political, economic and cultural center. At the heart of Tokyo is the Imperial Palace. Called “Edo Castle” during the Edo period, it was home to the shoguns from the Tokugawa family. Now the Emperor and some of his family live there.
Kanagawa Prefecture is located in central Honshu, bounded by Tokyo to the north. It was once the seat of the Kamakura military government, and later, in the Edo period, it was an important point on the highway connecting Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto. Yokohama, the capital city, has one of the major international ports in Japan. The port opened in the middle of the 19th century, and new ideas and inventions of the West were introduced to Japan from here.
Hyogo Prefecture faces the Seto Inland Sea to the south and the Sea of Japan to the north. It is sometimes called Japan in miniature because of the variety of its geography and climate. The city of Kobe, the capital of the prefecture, has developed as a port city, and Kobe Port plays an important role as an international harbor for the Hanshin Industrial Zone. The earthquake of 1995 caused major damage to the Hyogo area.
Most of the population of Kyoto Prefecture is concentrated in the south in Kyoto City. For some 1,100 years, Kyoto was the capital of Japan and the center of the country’s politics, culture and economy until 1869, when the capital was moved to Tokyo. Many signs of Kyoto’s cultural heritage remain, including the former Kyoto Imperial Palace and Ryoanji, a temple famous for its rock garden. Traditional crafts still flourish in Kyoto, including Nishijin silk fabrics and Kiyomizu ceramics.
Shiga Prefecture is located in the western part of central Honshu and is surrounded by mountains on all sides. In the center of this prefecture lies Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan. Around this lake there are many cities and towns, which have flourished as centers for shipping on the lake. Some famous temples are also in this area, including Enryakuji on Mt. Hiei, Ishiyamadera, and Miidera in Otsu.
Osaka Prefecture has the second largest population in the country, as well as the second smallest area. It has been the center of transportation, trade and commerce since ancient times, and together with Kyoto it has cultivated a unique culture known as “kamigata culture.” The culture has been well preserved, and Osaka is often compared with Tokyo in various aspects. Osaka Castle Park is an urban park located in the center of Osaka, with the historical and romantic castle tower at its core. The park is a place for citizens to relax and enjoy the flowers of the four seasons while gazing at Osaka Castle and its moat.
Mie Prefecture is located in the eastern part of the Kinki district. It is close to Nara and Kyoto, and it’s easily accessible from Nagoya and Osaka. It is blessed with a mild climate and spectacular mountains, sea and sightseeing spots. The Ise Shrine has been especially well known as a sacred Shinto site since ancient times. Among the prefecture’s specialties are spiny lobsters and Matsuzaka beef.
Most of Nara Prefecture is mountainous, except for the Nara Basin in the northwestern area, which belongs to the commuter belt of Osaka. The city of Nara was Japan’s capital in the eighth century and the political and religious center of early Japanese history. It was also the eastern end of the Silk Road. Therefore much heritage remains in this city and the surrounding area, such as Buddhist temples.
Wakayama Prefecture is located on the southwestern part of the Kii Peninsula. The terrain is almost entirely mountainous except for the Wakayama Plain, where the city of Wakayama, the prefectural capital, is located. In the past, forestry flourished here, and the area was called “Kinokuni,” which means “Tree Land.” Wakayama Prefecture has played an important role in religion as well. Kongobuji, the head temple of the Shingon sect on Mt. Koya, and the three Shinto shrines known as Kumano Sanzan are especially famous. Among the prefecture’s products, mandarin oranges and plums are well known.
Yamaguchi Prefecture is the westernmost part of Honshu and is linked to Kyushu across the Kammon Strait by tunnel and bridge. The cities along the Seto Inland Sea have long been keys in the transportation network in western Japan. Today heavy and chemical industries flourish. This prefecture faces the sea on three sides and has many fishing ports. Its fisheries thrive, and it is Japan’s major port for the unloading of globefish. Yamaguchi Prefecture’s globefish are well known all over Japan. Akiyoshidai, in the eastern part of Mine City, Yamaguchi Prefecture, is a limestone cave located 100-200 meters underground. It is one of the largest limestone caves in Japan.
Shimane Prefecture is located in western Honshu and faces the Sea of Japan to the north. Agriculture centered on rice production and fishing plays an important role in the prefecture’s economy. Major tourist attractions include Izumo Taisha Shrine in Taisha‐cho. This is one of the most important shrines in Shintoism. According to an ancient myth, all of Japan’s gods made it a practice to gather there each October.
Tottori Prefecture is located in western Honshu and faces the Sea of Japan to the north. The prefecture’s specialty is a pear called the “nijisseiki nashi,” which means 20th century pear. Tottori’s sand dunes―sand dunes are rare in Japan―are one of the major tourist attractions. The dunes, however, have been irrigated and planted with trees, so their features are changing.
Hiroshima Prefecture faces the Seto Inland Sea. Most of this prefecture is mountainous; its industrialized and densely populated cities are concentrated along the southern coastal areas. In these coastal cities, the automobile, steel, and machinery industries flourish. The city of Hiroshima, the capital of this prefecture, is known around the world for having been the first city to suffer the explosion and aftermath of an atomic bomb. The A‐bomb Dome, which is kept as a symbol of the desire for peace, is a registered World Heritage site.
Okayama Prefecture is the home of “Momotaro,” one of the most famous Japanese folktales. It is located in the central Chugoku region in western Honshu and faces onto the Seto Inland Sea. Thanks to its mild climate, fruit cultivation has flourished in this prefecture. Okayama is one of Japan’s top producers of peaches and grapes. The Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter, with its rows of white walls, attracts many tourists from Japan and abroad.
Ehime Prefecture is located in northwestern Shikoku, facing the Seto Inland Sea to the north and the Uwa Sea to the west. Thanks to its mild climate, the cultivation of mandarin oranges has flourished in this prefecture and has gained a nationwide reputation. The capital of the prefecture, Matsuyama, is well known for the Dogo Onsen, the oldest hot spring in Japan, and also as the scene of a famous novel written by Natsume Soseki, “Botchan.”
Kagawa Prefecture, which has the smallest land area in the country, is located in northeastern Shikoku, facing the Seto Inland Sea. The climate is mild with little rain, and the prefecture has often suffered water shortages. Among many famous places of scenic beauty and historical interest is Kotohira Shrine, better known as “Kompirasan.” It is dedicated to the guardian god of the sea, and it attracts many visitors.
Tokushima Prefecture is located on Shikoku Island, one of the four main islands of Japan. The city of Tokushima, the prefectural capital, is famous for Awaodori, which is held from August 12 to 15 every year. Awaodori is a carnival of dance in which groups of from several dozen to over one hundred dancers dance along the city streets to the accompaniment of “shamisen,” flutes, bells and drums.
Kochi Prefecture is situated on the south side of Shikoku Island facing the Pacific Ocean. With high mountains to the north, the sun‐drenched ocean to the south, and a temperate climate, the prefecture’s natural environment is said to be the source of the stubborn, rebellious spirit called “igosso” for which the people of Kochi are known. Many people who built the foundations for modern Japan came from Kochi, including Ryoma Sakamoto. The Shimanto River is a first-class river running through the western part of Kochi Prefecture, and is called “Japan’s last clear stream” because no large-scale dams have been built on its mainstream, and also “one of the three clearest rivers in Japan” along with the Kakita River and Nagara River.
Fukuoka Prefecture is located in northern Kyushu. It faces the Sea of Japan to the north and the Seto Inland Sea to the east. Many port cities have been developed in this prefecture’s coastal areas, including Fukuoka City, which is the present capital of the prefecture and has been the political and commercial center of Kyushu for a long time. Today, it is one of the most important centers for international transport in Asia and the Pacific. In addition, the famous festival called Hakata Dontaku is held in Hakata every year.
Saga Prefecture is located in northwest Kyushu. It faces the Sea of Japan to the north and the Ariake Sea to the south. Because of its proximity to the Korean Peninsula and China, it has long been influenced by the culture of the Asian continent. The traditional Arita (or Imari) and Karatsu ceramics for which Saga is famous were developed by potters from the Korean Peninsula. The Yoshinogari Ruins are also located in the Yoshinogari Hills, straddling Yoshinogari Town and Kanzaki City in Kanzaki County, Saga Prefecture. It is designated as a special historic site by the Japanese government. It is known for the ruins of a large moat encircling settlement from the Yayoi period, which covers approximately 117 hectares.
Nagasaki Prefecture is located in northwestern Kyushu. It includes four peninsulas and a number of islands, such as Tsushima and the Goto group. It has a history of contact with foreign countries. In the Edo Period, during Japan’s era of seclusion, trade with the Netherlands, China and Korea passed through Nagasaki Port, which was Japan’s only window to the world. Therefore many foreign influences can still be found in this area. The city of Nagasaki is also the place where, after the bombing of Hiroshima, the second atomic bomb was dropped in August 1945.
Oita Prefecture is located in northeastern Kyushu, facing the Seto Inland Sea to the north. A mountainous region covers more than 70 percent of the prefecture and is part of both the Kirishima and Hakusan Volcanic Zones. This gives the prefecture the largest number of hot springs in the country. Beppu and Yufuin are especially famous nationwide.
Kumamoto Prefecture is located almost in the center of Kyushu. Blessed with a mild climate and abundant water, its culture has flourished since ancient times. Many burial mounds have been excavated as well as ruins from the early Stone Age and the Jomon period. Kumamoto is also known for Mt. Aso, which has the grandest caldera in the world and receives many visitors every year.
Miyazaki Prefecture is located in southeastern Kyushu and faces the Pacific Ocean to the east. The warm climate allows the cultivation of early and late crops of fruits and vegetables. As a sightseeing spot the Nichinan Seacoast National Park, a resort with a tropical atmosphere, is famous. This prefecture is also well known as the place of origin of many myths and legends. The Takachiho area is a popular tourist destination in Miyazaki Prefecture. The Takachiho area is also known as the “home of the gods” and is home to many spots where myths and legends are handed down, such as Takachiho Gorge and Amawato Shrine.
Kagoshima Prefecture is located in the southernmost part of Kyushu, in other words, at the southern edge of mainland Japan. In this prefecture there are some big volcanoes like the famous Sakurajima, and the number of hot springs is the second largest in the country. Agriculture and animal husbandry are the main industries here, and Kagoshima Berkshire swine and sweet potatoes are especially well known. Furthermore, Yakushima Island, famous for a very old cedar Jomon‐sugi, has been designated as a world natural heritage site.
Okinawa Prefecture consists of many islands dotting the East China Sea. It is south of Kyushu and is the only prefecture with a subtropical climate. It used to be called Ryukyu, and it had active trade with other Asian countries, especially China. Okinawa attracts tourists not only from all over the country but also from abroad because of its unique culture and rich natural beauty.