In this staff report, Gfactor writes:

Why are prefectures in Japan always named as “Blank Prefecture”? I never see “Quebec Province”, I’ll occasionally see “Washington State” (possibly to avoid confusion with the city, though nobody seems to worry about that with Quebec) and any other conjugation of that form almost always refers not to the state but to a university: “California State”, “Penn State”.

I find the word “Prefecture” long and unwieldy. Why is it necessary to use it in these circumstances?

I’m not positive this is the case with Japan, but in quite a few countries the small-area internal subdivisions all or mostly all bear the same name as the city that is their capital/seat. Soviet Russia was a good example of this (I think but am not positive that post USSR Russia retained the system): the areas principally occupied by Russians were divided into oblasts with names matching their administrative center: Kaliningrad oblast, Archangelsk oblast, Ryazan oblast, Smolensk oblast, etc. The non-Russian minorities each had an A.S.S.R. or national okrug bearing the name of the minority ethnic group. Reference generally was to the oblasts by the name they shared with their capital city, with the term “oblast” tagged on, to avoid confusion with the city of the same name located within the oblast.

IIRC, most but not all of Japan’s prefectures are named in this form, and that may well be the explanation.

Weren’t these areas once administered by Prefects? And perhaps named after the administrative center?

If our states, in the US, were all named after their capital cities, it might be more common to refer to Albany State to differentiate the area from the city.

American Heritage Dictionary defines prefecture thusly:

pre·fec·ture n. 1. The district administered or governed by a prefect.

I’m not 100% sure it *is * necessary, to be completely candid. The articles I found about the incident described it that way. And I found a bunch of references to it like that online, enough to suggest that that was the accepted usage. In fact, it seems to be part of the name:

So I decidded that it was no crime to included it, but it might be to leave it out.

Because I’m more familiar with the usage, I’m not as cautious with the names of U.S. locations. For example, lawyers often pepper their pleadings with:

I usually recast this as: guy’s name lives in Riverview, Michigan.


. . . Riverview, Michigan, which is in Wayne County. [But only if the county is required–and it almost never is].

I’d do the same thing for prefectures if I knew it was ok.

Actually, it is necessary in this instance. The Chiba Prefecture has quite a coastline, being a penninsula and all. Saying a ship was sunk “off of Chiba” is entirely different than saying “off Chiba Prefecture.”


Similarly in Hawaii, the entire island of Oahu is Honolulu- Honolulu being the name for both the City and the County. While on Oahu, when we say Honolulu, we usually refer to the urban side (city) of the island.

Ireland does this, too. For instance, my ancestors came from County Cork, though they may or may not have been from the city of Cork.

Occam’s Razor would seem to suggest that it is included for the simple fact that most non-Japanese readers would otherwise have no idea whether “Chiba” was a county, lake, or galactic cluster. Indicating “Chiba Prefecture” simply helps give some context as to what the heck the article was talking about. I see it with Chinese too - “Hunan Province” as oppose to just “Hunan”.

While we don’t commonly say things like California State or Texas State, we do almost always say Orange County or Harris County. So it’s probably a case of states being familiar enough to the audience while foreign or local geographical areas need the additional clarification.

It’s also folded into the name in Japanese. You can leave off the ~ken affix in casual speech, but most of the time it seems to be considered as part of the name. This also happens with transliterated names for other places and landmarks besides prefectures. You get things like signs reading “Nihonbashi Bridge.” The bashi part in Japanese means bridge, so the English, if literally translated, would mean Japan-bridge Bridge.

I’ve discussed this with people who are actually responsible for making some local signs, and apparently it’s common practice to leave the parts that mean bridge, road, mountain, etc. in the transliterated name. The thinking is that the name contains that bit, so it would sound odd to Japanese ears without it, and it aids communication when you’re dealing with people who don’t know each other’s languages well.

There’s also the common occurrence of having a village, town or city, and a prefecture with the same name. There’s a Saitama-shi (city) in Saitama-ken (prefecture). There’s a Saitama-mura (village) and for all I know there might also be a Saitama-machi (town) in Saitama-ken. Less confusing to never throw out the division bit unless both people can be sure of understanding what they’re referring to.

Another place where this happens is in Spain. Most of Spain’s provinces share the exact name of their capital. Being asked whether you’re “from Vizcaya city?” means whomever isn’t very up-to-date on his geography (Vizcaya is one of the half-dozen exceptions to the rule, their capital being Bilbao); someone saying he’s from “Barcelona province” is making sure you understand he’s not from the city of Barcelona (“Barcelona ciudad” or just plain “Barcelona”) but from the surrounding area.

People tend to find the few exceptions very confusing; I lived in Castellon province for about a year and the town seal for the place where I lived actually had the province listed wrong. They indicated the province as “Castellón de la Plana,” which is… the capital. So a different town from the one where I lived.

There’s also cases of towns with identical names in different provinces, which often have to be mentioned by town-and-province.