Towns, cities, villages, etc

I’m trying to get straight in my head the order of municipalities, from smallest to largest, after learning two words for city in level 12.

So far this is what I have:

Village, Town, City and Metropolis (Big City)

I’m not sure but I think 田舎 being countryside is like the boonies? The sticks? Somewhere out in the country that’s not even necessarily a town or village, but could be?

Let me know where I’m wrong! よろしくお願いします。


I am not sure about inaka, your ordering is correct to my knowledge.

Remember there is also the concept of a prefecture in Japan, which is the next level below the national government. The Tokyo Metro area is actually a city and a prefecture, so there can be overlap.

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田舎 is just basically referring to the countryside, sometimes in a slightly disparaging way (but people here use it as sorta “yeah, we’re in the middle of nowhere 田舎, but that’s fine!”). It’s not a specific designation like 町 or 村, just a descriptor. I translate it for my family as “in the sticks.”

I also don’t see it written as 都市 as much, mainly just 市, but then again I do generally see it attached to the end of a place name or at least in reference to one (like 札幌市 or in a shop directory). Honestly I’ve only ever seen ~都 in reference to the Tokyo Metropolitan Area, but I guess it could be used in other places I’ve never encountered. The most common ones are ~ちょう and ~, so if you understand those you’ve basically got most of municipality classifications down!

Also when it comes to prefectures/県s, remember that everything is a 県 except for 北海道 which is technically a 道, not a 県, and Tokyo which is it’s own thing (as cypherさん mentioned). Just to make things fun :joy:

So basically, it’s 村 → 町 → 市 → 都 → 県 → 北海道 (in ranking of size)


Be aware that in the strict technical sense in Japan, the terms 市 and 町 and 村 and such refer to an area of land rather than to the population center specifically. 県 are comprised of a number of 郡, which themselves are comprised of a number of 市, which in turn can contain 町 and 村, but the 町 and 村 can also be separate entities on their own. There’s no point in Japan that does not fall within the territory of some 市 or 町 and 村 or other, even in the deepest of 田舎. For example, the city of Tanabe in Wakayama Prefecture - the population centre is on the coast of the Kii Peninsula, but the city’s territory includes vast swathes of the inland areas, stretching all the way to the Kumano Hongu Taisha, which is much closer to the city of Shingu than it is to Tanabe proper.

And Osaka and Kyoto, which are 府.

In fact, Tokyo is only a prefecture and not a city. It’s comprised of the twenty-three special wards (区), which have equivalent legislative status to cities, and also twenty-six cities, five towns and eight villages. The capital “city”, as it were, of Tokyo Prefecture is Shinjuku Ward.


Oooooo, I didn’t know that! Thanks! Looking that up on jisho yielded 府県, which is all prefectures except for Tokyo and Hokkaido, which makes me think that I’ve probably heard that before and thought they were saying 部県 or 副県 (which I don’t think are words) or something.

I guess that makes the ranking more like 村 → 町 → 市 → 郡 → 都 → 県 → 北海道
(although should 府 and 部 be equal to each other? and should Tokyo be added in as it’s own thing? I think I’m thinking too much about this)

Edit: Wait no I messed up the location of 府 didn’t I

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Fun fact, all the prefectures together are 都道府県, which just so happens to be the name of the “Prefectures of Japan” article on the Japanese Wikipedia. :slightly_smiling_face:

That kinda depends on whether we’re talking land area or importance-slash-legislative-power. Tokyo, for example, is the third-smallest prefecture (only Osaka and Kagawa are smaller), but is by far the most populous, and certainly the most significant.


That’s amazing, it’s just all of the suffixes clumped together! My kind of kanji phrase :tada:

Hmmmmm I guess size order of the official municipality terms to follow the OP’s question? I have no idea how to do a correct importance-slash-legislative-power ranking after putting Tokyo at the top (probably followed by Osaka? :man_shrugging:)

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Well, I just realised I goofed in my understanding of one aspect: 町 and 村 comprise 郡, while 郡 and 市 together comprise 県 et all - 市 are only 市 because they’re not located inside 郡; if they were, they’d become largish 町. Though I don’t think that’s ever actually happened - the tendency is towards merging things together rather than splitting them apart (in fact, there’s now thirteen prefectures that have no 村 at all, because they’ve all been merged into larger entities).

So I guess in order of size, it’d be something like…

村 → 町 → 市/郡 → 県/etc → 地方 → 国

Just introducing new terms for the fun of it…

Let’s not even get into the various different tiers that cities can be sorted into, like “Special City” and “Core City” and so forth.


You know, I should’ve caught that too, I even just had to post a letter to another part of Hokkaido and while my address has a 郡 the big city I was mailing to, a 市, didn’t. And I think Hokkaido recently tried to merge a lot of their smallest 村s into other towns, but everything is just so spread out here and some of them are so remote that it’s sometimes rather impossible to do so.

Fun fact, the smallest 市 by population in Japan is in Hokkaido, and it’s 歌志内うたしない市, which is an 当て字 name that I just love for some reason.

Hey, why not :sunglasses:

oh no I changed my mind, my head can only take so much


In addition to Hokkaido and Tokyo being exceptions, Osaka and Kyoto are 府(ふ)as well, rather than 県, and Osaka is lobbying to be upgraded to a 都!

One I’d add to the ranking is 街, which is also まち like 町, but 街 is used in a way similar to downtown or city center in English, whereas 町 is used for a town or an area/neighborhood of a city. 街 can also mean something more like street or alley, when it’s more likely pronounced がい, as in “Golden Gai,” which is often used for bar/nightlife areas.

I’d also add 区 (く), which is translated as “ward,” but are the main administrative districts of many cities.


To address one other point raised in the OP that hasn’t really been addressed so far, while 市 and 町 and such have specific legal definitions in Japan, 都市 is just the generic word for “city”, and can honestly refer to anything that the speaker considers being a city. For example, the Japanese Wikipedia article on 町 refers to them as being " 小規模な都市や、あるいは都市の一部の狭い区画についていうことが比較的多い。" (emphasis mine). Which is to say, “Often referred to as a small city, or as a part of a larger city.”

都会 is similar, and you’d use it in situations where you’d say “metropolis” or “metropolitan area” in English.


For those who don’t know, most of the place names in Hokkaido are ateji 当て字. Japanese transliterations of Ainu names. My favorite is probably Kutchan, because it’s so un-Japanese and is written 倶知安(くっちゃん)which looks like it should be くちあん!


There’s a village ‘near’ me that’s called 音威子府おといねっぷ村 and geez did that 子 reading take a while to figure out! I’ve only ever seen it since in zodiac contexts. (It also uses 府, which I realize is rather fitting for this thread :joy:) What’s kinda cool is that the locals say it less like the hiragana and more like the Ainu pronunciation (so closer to oh-toY-nepp). I’ve found that the original Ainu pronunciation sometimes lingers with place names, especially when it comes to things like mountains!


There are also 区 (wards) within cities and 郡 (prefecture district) within prefectures. Within 区 are 丁目 (districts). For Tokyo only, there are 23 特別区 (special wards).

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Well, all the 別’s come to mind when you say that!


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