Stories of the Japanese Prefectures - Prereading (Absolute Beginners Book Club)

Stories of the Japanese Prefectures - Prereading :jp:

We’re reading this book as part of the Absolute Beginner Book Club, starting May 14th 2022. If you want to know more about the plans to read this book, click here to go the home thread for Stories of the Japanese Prefectures.

What’s going on in the prereading thread?

In this prereading thread, we are going to read the introductory chapter, 都道府県って、なに?This is pages 4-5 of the book. We are going to translate each sentence line by line, and break down the grammar in each sentence.

For those who are new to reading a Japanese book this will give you a chance to see what you’ve got yourself into, and perhaps help to focus any grammar work you are doing between now and the main start date on May 14th.

If you are not sure whether to join us yet, this will give you a taste for the book, and how a bookclub works. I’m sharing photos of the first two pages of the book below. I hope everyone will agree this is fair use, and hopefully may encourage a few more people to buy the book itself and join in!

Who is this aimed at?

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, this book club is not really aimed at those who are absolute beginners in learning Japanese. It is aimed at those who have a grasp of some basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary and are trying to read a native Japanese book for the first time. Ideally you will have completed most of a foundation level text book in Japanese (or equivalent). Some readers have joined at a lower level in the past and used the text as part of their learning. This approach requires quite a bit more effort but some have found this a productive and enjoyable way to learn Japanese!


The Text

Click to view pages 4 -5


  • Vocabulary sheet - we use a shared google sheet to make a list of vocabulary in the book. Creating this sheet is a shared effort so all are welcome to contribute. If you are doing this for the first time please read the instructions on the first page. Only add words if you are reasonably sure you are right - if you are not sure then ask in the thread instead.
  • Jisho is a popular online Japanese-English dictionary.
  • is a tool for parsing out sentences. You can type/paste in a whole sentence and it will try and break the sentence down into its individual parts. As Japanese doesn’t use spaces between words this can be really helpful when you are first starting out. It’s also useful when you don’t recognise the conjugation of a word, or when a group of words form a set expression.
  • Deepl will translate a sentence from Japanese to English. It’s obviously not going to be right all the time, so if you want to check your translation it’s often better to ask in the thread. Having said that, it often gives a good translation, especially with more formal prose like in this book. When you know the words but can’t put them all together this can be really helpful for pointing you in the right direction.
  • How to install a Japanese keyboard - if you don’t know how to type in Japanese on your device this guide from the makers of Wanikani will help you out.

Participation poll

  • I’m reading along!

0 voters


I’ll kick us off with the first couple of lines. Please feel free to ask questions, correct my mistakes, or start translating the next sentences!

はじめに - The Beginning


  • 都道府県 - the Japanese prefectures
  • って - as for… (this is essentially the same as using the は particle in this situation)
  • なに - what

As for the Japanese prefecture, what (are they)?

Or more naturally - What are the Japanese prefectures?


  • 日本 - Japan
  • は - topic marking particle
  • どんな - what kind of
  • 形 - shape
  • を - object marking particle
  • している - する (to do, to make) in it’s present continuous form (is doing, is making)
  • か - question marking particle
  • 知っています - 知る (to know) in it’s present continuous form (is knowing, are knowing)
  • か - question marking particle

This sentence contains an embedded question.

  • 形をしている - making a shape

  • どんな形をしているか - what kind of shape it makes

  • 日本は、どんな形をしているか知っていますか - speaking of Japan, do you know what kind of shape it makes?

Or more naturally - Do you know what Japan looks like?


Maybe it helps some people. This word comes from the fact that one prefecture (metropolitain area) ends in 都(と) (東京都/Tokyo) one prefecture (like island) ends in 道(どう) (北海道/Hokkaido) two prefectures end in 府(ふ) (大阪府 + 京都府/Oosaka + Kyoto) and all the rest end in 県(けん) (example: 静岡県/Shizuoka)

So if you want to refer to all of them you can’t just use one ending since they are all “different” kinds of entities (though all are called prefectures in english??) and you refer to them all by combining all their endings into one word: とどうふけん


Very happy to be diving into this book :slight_smile:

Continuing the translation:



:point_right: Let’s look at the map on the pages 2-3 of this book.

この本の2~3ページにある地図 - map being on pages 2-3 of this book

  • この 本 2~3ページ - on pages 2-3 of this book
  • ある地図 - map that is. This video explains how verbs can act as adjectives.

地図を見てみましょう - let’s look at the map

  • 地図見る - look at the map
  • 見てみましょう - “let’s look”, is formal volitional form of 見る



:point_right: Big islands, small islands etc… there are islands of various shapes.

大きいしま、小さいしまなど - Big islands, small islands etc.

  • しま - island
  • など - etc

いろいろな形のしまがあつまっています - Islands of various shapes are assembling.

  • いろいろ 形 - various shape. Here’s a video to understand いろいろな part
  • いろいろな 形 しま - island of various shape

しまがあつまっています - Islands are assembling

  • あつまって います: て-form of あつまる (“to assemble”, intransitive, “self-move”: explanatory video here) + formal form of いる (“to be”) = present continuons of “to assemble”




:point_right: Whole Japan is divided into 47 areas called “prefectures”.

日本全体を、四十七の地いきに分けたもの - Things that divided whole Japan into 46 areas

  • 日本全体 - whole Japan
    • 全体ぜんたい - whole
  • 四十七地いき - forty-seven areas
  • AB分ける - to split A into B
  • 分けたもの - “things that divided”, 分けた is past form of 分ける. This video explains this construction.

「都道府県」といいます - called “prefectures”. といいます is a formal form of という



:point_right: There is only one prefecture that uses “都”: “東京都” (Toukyouto) :woozy_face:

  • 「都」つく - “「都」is attached”
    • く- to be attached
  • 「都」がつく - “As for 「都」that is attached”, の is a nominalizer particle
  • 東京都一つだけです - There is only one, “Toukyouto”
    • 東京都一つ - one “Toukyouto”

Apologies, I’m not terribly confident with particles as of yet, so I will probably need someone to add on if possible if they want to specify.



:star: There is also only one prefecture that uses “dō”: Hokkaidō.

  • 道 (どう) - typically means “road”/“way”, but in this case “prefecture” or even “region”. (Hokkaido Prefecture is known as Hokkaido Circuit Prefecture or Hokkaido Region).
  • 付く (つく) - to be attached.
  • 北海道 (ほっかいどう) - Hokkaido. Characters for north, sea, and road, if that helps you to remember how it is written.
  • これ - this.
  • も - particle for “also”
    一つ (ひとつ) - one thing; counter for one.
  • だけ - only; just; alone.

So, the sentence could be read something like, “Dō attaches to Hokkaidō, this, also, is the only one.” But, more naturally, “There is also only one prefecture that uses dō: Hokkaidō.”



:star: “There are two prefectures that ‘fu’ attaches to: Osaka Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture.” or “There are two urban prefectures: Osaka Prefecture and Kyoto Prefecture.”

  • 府 (ふ) - “urban/metropolitan prefecture”.
  • 付く (つく) - to be attached.
  • 大阪府 (おおさかふ) - Ōsaka Prefecture. The characters for Ōsaka are big and slope/hill.
  • と - and.
  • 京都府 (きょうとふ) - Kyōto Prefecture. Characters are for capital and capital/capital city.
  • 二つ - two (counter for two).
  • あります - to exist/are.

Apologies for any mistakes, I’ve never translated anything before :blush: If there is a better way to word things, feel free to correct.


Fun fact: Osaka was originally written as 大坂 (i.e. using the more typical kanji for “slope”), but during the Meiji restoration, they decided that it looks kinda like 大士反 if you squint, and that says “great samurai opposition”, which was definitely not on, so they changed it.


Ah, that’s super interesting :star_struck:

The problem with so many of the names is that I know, like most city names across the world, they change meaning and reading over time so it’s not worth always diving into the etymology, but 北海道 and 千葉, for instance, are ones that are easier for me to remember if I remember the characters, and I thought it’d be better to be consistent so I hope I didn’t get either Osaka or Kyoto wrong. But now I’m just imagining someone back during the Meiji Restoration misreading a letter and having Kill Bill sirens go off in his head :joy: Now that I know this hopefully I will always remember how to write Osaka.


Thanks @_Mae and @thaeon for sharing your translations. Much more nicely formatted than mine too - I’ve changed mine to copy you! :star:

I hope you don’t mind me chipping in with some comments.

There’s a few sentences here that start with the same construction. I think that this の, rather than being a nominalizer, is what Bunpro calls: pronoun “one” (noun omission). Here is the Bunpro link for this grammar point.

For example, you can say “the brown shoe” by saying “ちゃいろのくつ”. But if you’ve already been talking about shoes and you want to refer to the brown one, you don’t need to say the word shoe again, this is already obvious from context. So you can just say “ちゃいろの”. The の now means the pronoun “one” and the noun for “shoe” is omitted. This would translate as “the brown one”.

So in our sentence it means “the one with “道” attached” or “the one with “都” attached”.

The は is then just a topic marking particle - “speaking of ones with “道” attached…”

While も一つ does have a dictionary entry meaning “furthermore”, I think this is two words.

  • も - meaning “also”
  • 一つ - meaning “one thing”

The も is referring back to the previous sentence which said there is only one prefecture with the suffix 都. When it comes to “道” there is also only one thing (prefecture) with this suffix attached.


Perfect, thank you for the correction! On first reading, I did think it was も and 一つ, and it was only when I plugged it into a translator that I wondered if も一つ (singular word) was just vocab I didn’t know :sweat_smile: , but it makes total sense for it to be the particle and 一つ, and I’ll edit above to correct it :blush: :star:


I’ll try a little.

And, there are forty-three that use “ken”.
The biggest prefecture is Hokkaido.
The smallest prefecture is Kagawaken.


Happy cake day! Can we call it Kagawaken in English? I wonder if we should translate as Kagawa Prefecture?

You’re right, Micki, we should translate it as Kagawa Prefecture.


Continuing, we have

If you look closely at each shape, you can see many different shapes.

それぞれの形を=various shapes
よく=well (or in this case, closely)
見ていると I think the と means “if”
いろんな形にも=various shapes, or many different shapes
見えてきます=you can see


The 見えてきます is interesting here. Verb in て-form followed by くる has several different nuances. I think here it means “to become” or “to start”. So 見えてくる has the nuance of “to become able to see” or “to start to be able to see”.

This JLPT Sensei post on てくる actually has 見えてくる as it’s first example sentence.


Here’s the next sentence, which starts on page 5, right after the “su”.

For example, Yamagachi Prefecture has a woman’s profile (“side-face”)

Shizuoka Prefecture is the shape of a goldfish,

and Aichi Prefecture looks like the head of a stag beetle (kuwagatamushi).

And you can see the shapes in the cute illustrations :slight_smile:


Chiba Prefecture looks like a dog standing on its hind legs, hence the prefectural mascot, Chiba-kun:


Thanks so much for setting up this thread Micki! All these translations are so thoughtful, and tempting lmao. I think I’m gonna try reading the raw text completely from scratch first before checking this thread for the answers. I’m unsure as to what (if any) I should be adding to an SRS, but for now I’m just gonna plow on ahead with the reading. いつもありがとうございます❤


And here are the next three sentences (yet to be translated).



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Thanks for your comments! Regarding which vocab to learn, the answer is probably none! You’ll probably be putting a lot of effort into the reading already and starting to create SRS decks on top becomes a bit arduous. I’d suggest just enjoy reading, or just add the occasional word that catches your attention.