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Japan’s Local Government System

The local government system in Japan consists of two tiers: prefectures and the municipalities that make up the prefectures. Prefectures and municipalities are both local public entities of equal status and cooperate in local administration according to their share of duties.

Prefectures are regional authorities comprising municipalities, and are in charge of broader regional administration. Japan is made up of 47 prefectures and Tokyo is one of these regional authorities.

Municipalities are local public entities that have a strong and direct relationship with local residents and handle affairs directly related to the residents. As of January 1, 2020, there are 792 cities (including Designated Cities), 743 towns, and 189 villages in Japan. There are no essential differences between cities, towns, and villages in their responsibilities. To be recognized as a city, a municipality must have a population of 50,000 or more, and must meet various other requirements as well. Towns must also meet certain conditions prescribed by prefectural ordinances.

In addition to ordinary local public entities such as prefectures and municipalities, there are special local public entities that have been established for specific objectives relating to local government. These include special wards, cooperatives, and public property districts. Tokyo’s 23 special wards are, in principle, subject to the same regulations that apply to cities. The special-ward system, however, has been designed to meet the distinctive needs of a large metropolis.

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