Difference between 町 and 市?

I learned the word 町 (まち) on RosettaStone as city and, when I learned here the word 市 (し) I was very confused! OK, in english they are translated as city and town, but I can’t tell the difference. I’m Brazilian, I have good knowledge of English, but for me city and town are just synonyms. Even my dictionary uses the same word in Portuguese to translate this two words, but for 町 it adds the definition of “centre”,

So, what’s the difference? Is there a difference? When you should use each one? I heard in a podcast by Tofugu that in Japanese synonyms are quite rare, that they use and reuse the same words, so I get a little confused when an apparent synonym appears here.

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town… all of this are towns…read it with a redneck-ish accent.

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町 (town) is smaller and is a subunit of 市 (city)

町 can also be used to talk about urban areas


isnt this(町) actually means town and (市) means city?

as far i understand, town and city is the same thing, the only difference is that:
city = a large town

you could say that town is a bit smaller comparing to city… you compare it by population or by development itself
(this is just my opinion tho)

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City and town aren’t the same thing in English…


This is just my impression so far, but do you even use 市 like 町? I usually see 市 as a suffix of city names and not as a noun by itself.

この町は大きい <- I’ve seen sentences like this
この市は大きい <- I haven’t seen sentences like this. Or any sentences where 市 stands alone. WK has 都市 for ‘city’

Maybe I just haven’t read enough Japanese material though :thinking:


I think you can use both 市 and 都市, but I’ve seen 都市 more often.

And the main difference between 市 and 町 is size, I believe.

Edit: https://gimon-sukkiri.jp/city-town-village/ says that the difference is based on two sets of standards.



(市 has to have a population of over 50,000 (30,000 in the case of mergers) and the proportion of houses/businesspeople in the center city has to be more than 60% of the total amount of houses/businesspeople) (this law applies to every prefecture)

「町」であるためには、 その「町」のある都道府県の条例に定められている条件を満たす 必要があり、平成28年10月10日時点で、744の「町」があります。

(町 has to fulfill requirements set by the prefecture, so it depends on the prefectural standards whether or not it’s a 町)

I think below 町 is 村, so anything that doesn’t meet the prefectural standards for 町 is a 村.


Yes you can talk about it as a noun – for example, from WK’s example sentence for 市:


From Wikipedia:

There are four types of municipalities in Japan: cities, towns, villages and special wards (the ku of Tokyo). In Japanese, this system is known as shikuchōson (市区町村), where each kanji in the word represents one of the four types of municipalities. Some designated cities also have further administrative subdivisions, also known as wards. But, unlike the Special wards of Tokyo, these wards are not municipalities.

The status of a municipality, if it is a village, town or city, is decided by the prefectural government. Generally, a village or town can be promoted to a city when its population increases above fifty thousand, and a city can (but need not) be demoted to a town or village when its population decreases below fifty thousand. The least-populated city, Utashinai, Hokkaidō, has a population of merely four thousand, while a town in the same prefecture, Otofuke, Hokkaidō, has nearly forty thousand residents, and the country’s largest village Yomitan, Okinawa has a population of 40,517.


In my personal experience, apart from the strict governmental distinctions between types of municipalities, I’ve heard people refer to a lot of different things as 町 from a town to a neighbourhood to a city.

Take for example this snippet from an NHK for school page:

兵庫県 神戸の町



I’d say it’s quite similar to English, where it’s a rectangle vs. square situation.

Almost anything can be called a town in some sense.

But anything smaller than a certain population will never be called a city.


True. People talk about cities as “towns” reasonably often in English. Certainly we talk about downtown for example, and poetically or affectionately, people will refer to their city as a town. Saying London Town is a good example of this.


To remember the difference, I use the fact that 町 is just a rice field and one street. Think about the “cidadezinhas” in Brazil that just have one street, one church, etc…

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Most people think of population/size as distinguishing between the two. In the UK it has nothing to do with population. There are some cities in the UK with a few thousand people and towns that are much larger than many cities. The status depends on whether a charter has been issued granting city/town status. Is there anything similar in Japan?


The legal status of a municipality in any given country is going to be defined by things that the average person does not consider when they talk about if something is a city or a town.

I don’t think we’re talking about the proper names here, which are handled for you by the names themselves. We’re talking about using these in conversation.

It’s fine to call Tokyo a 町 in conversation (the use of which in that case would obviously be emphasizing the elements of “town-ness” even though Tokyo is something everyone knows is a city), even though it’s a 都 in law.

At the same time, it would be very strange to call some random inaka village a city in a sincere way.

As far as I was always taught, cities and towns are different. Cities are much bigger, both in terms of population density and the amenities available. Public transport also factors in. In Ireland, for a place to be considered a city, there is a minimum population requirement, and any settlement with a population level below that cap is called a town. There’s also other prerequisites but that’s the main one. So yeah, I’d say there’s a difference. Tokyo is a city, not a town.

This is all referring to English though. The difference in nuance in Japanese is another matter that I’ll leave to the more experienced Senpais :joy:

Yes, this. 町 Is always much smaller than 市, which is smaller than 県 but maybe more densely populated and there’s only two 都 which are reserved for central cities. 東京都 is the current central city and 京都 is the former central city for the Japanese government.

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