Levels of government - understanding Japanese terminology compared to the rest of the world

There are several kanji on WK that teach us the Japanese terminology for level of government, how the country is divided into regions of local/regional government, and societal functions of government etc.

Last one I encountered were the Metropolitan Police Department 警視庁 (けいしちょう), but there’s been several others:

Metropolitan government 都庁 とちょう
City government/municial government 市営 しえい
Government agency 官庁 かんちょう
Government run/public management 公営 こうえい
State run/ state management 国営 こくえい
Prefecture run 県営 けんえい
Prefecture 県 けん
District 区 く
City 市 し
Municipal 市立 しりつ
Metropolitan area 都 と
Tokyo Metropolitan area 東京都 とうきょうと
Police station 警察署 けいさつしょ
National Police Agency 警察庁 けいさつちょう
Prime Minister’s Office 総理府 そうりふ
Municipal office 市役所 しやくしょ
City hall 役場 やくば
…and so forth (there are also words not included in WK!)

In varying degree, these concepts are very hard for me to grasp - both the Japanese and English meaning of those words.

I guess, it’s a matter of researching Japanese society and learning more about its political reality, BUT, from a language point of view, I’m unsure of how to use those words outside of Japan. What are the equivalents?

(this makes me think of school-levels, that also differ between countries, thus not being really equivalent, but sort-of-ish).

To make this more of a question, how do you understand the Japanese terminology for how the country is run? How do understand it in relation to your own country of origin? How do you make sense of it all! :sweat_smile:


I would say, look up your own local government on Japanese Wikipedia and see what words they use for the stuff you know.


That’s actually a great idea. I’ll give it a check.

But, I’m pretty sure several of these levels of government just isn’t the same. Like having a city mayor or a prefecture run business - that just doesn’t apply. So there’s the lack of understanding I guess for the Japanese political reality also combined with the English translations, that doesn’t either translate well to what I know in my own country - which confuses me.

But, I’ll give Wikipedia a try, if I can read that (hopefully!). Thanks!

One term that is not taught on WK but is important is 都道府県 (todoufuken) which means the administrative divisions somewhat similar to provinces or states.

These consist of 1 都 (Tokyo), 1 道 (Hokkaido), 2 府 (Kyoto and Osaka), and 43 県.


You mean like the state governments in the USA?

(thanks! I’m taking notes for that one!)

Because, we don’t have anything similar in Sweden.

Ignoring the national level for now: There are regional political entities (Länsstyrelser plural in Swedish), discussing the distribution of money for healthcare, schools, infrastructure and big stuff like that, but nothing beyond that, they are elected officials elected during the national election.

Then there are what I think (?) is the municipal level of government, which is based around a larger city, but really is more about the local region around that city and that isn’t a metropolitan area in definition (Kommunstyrelse in Swedish, also elected officials).

For the police, they’ve been made into the same organization now. So, it all the national police agency, even locally. I guess, people still talk about them like their “city’s police” since they live and work there, but it’s all one huge public organization now.

So, that’s also some differences that makes me a bit uncertain how to apply the Japanese words for this stuff.

EDIT: I guess, I’m a bit curious about everyone else’s thoughts here, since we come from so many different countries.


Some things, like the 都 ones, I feel are pretty specific to Japan’s government. Like, I don’t think you can just say “oh, this thing in my country is a metropolis, so I can use 都 words for it”. In the government words, it usually gets used as an abbreviation of 東京都.


Basically, it’s just Tokyo then! Ah.

I guess it makes sense for it to have it’s own government thingy, because of it’s size and special needs!

But, how about all those huge American cities? I just know too little about all countries’ local government styles.

1 Like

Most big American cities are just… big cities. They aren’t their own special designation like 都 is for Tokyo. New York City is just ニューヨーク市. A part of ニューヨーク州.

Tokyo Metropolis is actually composed of smaller divisions called special wards, cities, and towns as well.

Those things called cities in Tokyo Metropolis have the same political structure as cities in other prefectures, even though we think of Tokyo as just one city in English.


Apparently there is no Japanese version of the Swedish Wikipedia page for the government levels etc. “Sveriges statsskick”, so I really have to do it the other way around, starting with the Japanese page for Sweden (much more general info), and read all facts.

This is now officially a project for tomorrow! :joy: I still wanna finish my lessons for today. :sweat_smile:


Well yes, Sweden has 10 million people, that’s less than Tokyo :sweat_smile:

I guess if you have less population, you don’t need states or prefectures.


Prefectures in Japan and states in the U.S. differ quite a bit in function. They both constitute each country’s first administrative division after “the country” as a whole and they both use the term governor or 知事 for the person at the head of the division, but Japan is a unitary state whereas the U.S. is a federal state, which means that Japan’s central government has devolved a lot fewer powers to its prefectures than the U.S. federal government to its states.

Certain powers that (partially) fall under a state’s authority in the U.S. would therefore not fall under the prefecture’s authority in Japan, e.g. taxation, education, welfare, infrastructure etc. Aspects of these may be managed by the prefecture, but the ultimate say lies with the central government. While this is a bit of a simplification, it’s the primary reason why you won’t see any difference in sales tax rates, school curricula, tolls, unemployment benefits, and regulations across Japan, when they can differ quite drastically across the U.S. (0% sales tax in New Hampshire, 8.25% in California; 12 weeks of unemployment benefits in Florida, 26 weeks in a lot of other states etc.).

I don’t know much about the way Sweden is organized administratively, but without going into too much detail, Japan’s prefectures are closer in concept and function to France’s départements, if you want to compare it to a large European country, while the U.S. states are closer to the German Bundesländer, even though the German federal system has devolved fewer powers to its states. This is, of course, a simplification, but it should illustrate the general idea.


And it certainly did! My own simplistic understanding of how other countries are governed is certainly lacking I feel. But, what you mentioned gives me some ideas for where to go look and learn more as well as getting a slightly better understanding of Japan ^>^.


BTW, if you and @Rowena should ever decide to switch avatars, I would be eternally confused


I guess they only become different when zooming. There’s some facial recognition testing going on in the POLL thread right now if you wanna challenge yourself! :wink:



I only just noticed what yours was in this thread yesterday - love it!

1 Like

Thanks! I like yours as well, but I have to wait 3h to “officially” like you :slightly_smiling_face: (Why no likes when you need them? >_> )

1 Like

Like the Greater London Area!

To OP:

On topic though… I would say this:


都庁 = Tokyo’s government
市営 = city/town council
官庁 = government run organisations like the police, courts, etc.
公営 = things run by the national government like local authority housing
国営 = things owned by the national government/publicly owned things
県営 = things owned by the local government
県 = already discussed above
区 = a borough or zone
市 = big settlement
私立 = municipal just means something related to a city’s governance
都 = the wider area of Tokyo
東京都 = Tokyo and its surrounding areas
警察署 = police station and 警察庁 = national police agency are pretty explanatory
総理府 = prime minister’s office is explanatory
市役所 = the people who make up local government
場 = a city or town hall

1 Like

Aside from it being 市立, it also means “run by the city” - e.g. 市立高等学校 = public high school - as opposed to 私立 which is “private”. Those are homophones, so take care. :slightly_smiling_face:

No, 市役所 is the building.

東京都 is the “prefecture” of Tokyo, comprising the 23 special wards plus western Tokyo (and also the Izu and Ogasawara Islands). “Tokyo and its surrounding areas” is 首都圏しゅとけん, though I confess I’m not sure I’ve ever come across that term in the real world.


What do you know? You learn something new every day.

Not exactly the same, but also not completely dissimilar to how in the US there is a region identified as “New England”.