Special wards of Tokyo

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Special wards of Tokyo
Located in the green highlights
Located in the green highlights
Location of Special wards of Tokyo
Country Japan
Island Honshu
Region Kantō
Prefecture Tokyo
 • 23 special wards 623 km2 (240.5 sq mi)
Population (May 1, 2015)
 • 23 special wards 9,214,130
 • Density 14,818/km2 (38,312/sq mi)
Administrative divisions
of Japan

The special wards (特別区 tokubetsu-ku?) are 23 municipalities that together make up the core and the most populous part of Tokyo, Japan. Together, they occupy the land that was originally the Tokyo City before it was abolished in 1943 to become part of the newly created Tokyo Metropolis. The special wards' structure was established under the Japanese Local Autonomy Law and is unique to Tokyo.

In Japanese, they are commonly known as the 23 wards (23区 nijūsan-ku?). Confusingly, all wards refer to themselves as a city in English, but the Japanese designation of special ward (tokubetsu ku) remains unchanged. Moreover, in everyday English, Tokyo as a whole is also referred to as a city. Thus, the closest English equivalents for the special wards would be the London boroughs, and this can help to understand their structures and functions.

This is merely a grouping of special wards; there is no associated single government body of wards separate from the Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

Differences from municipalities

Although special wards are autonomous from the Tokyo metropolitan government, they also function as a single urban entity in respect to certain public services, including water supply, sewage disposal, and fire services. These services are handled by the Tokyo metropolitan government, whereas cities would normally provide these services themselves. This situation is identical between the Federal District and its 31 administrative regions in Brazil. To finance the joint public services it provides to the 23 wards, the metropolitan government levies some of the taxes that would normally be levied by city governments, and also makes transfer payments to wards that cannot finance their own local administration.[1]

Waste disposal is handled by each ward under direction of the metropolitan government. For example, plastics were generally handled as non-burnable waste until the metropolitan government announced a plan to halt burying of plastic waste by 2010; as a result, about half of the special wards now treat plastics as burnable waste, while the other half mandate recycling of either all or some plastics.[2]

Unlike other municipalities (including the municipalities of western Tokyo), special wards were initially not considered to be local public entities for purposes of the Constitution of Japan. This means that they had no constitutional right to pass their own legislation, or to hold direct elections for mayors and councilors. While these authorities were granted by statute during the US-led occupation and again from 1975, they could be unilaterally revoked by the Diet of Japan; similar measures against other municipalities would require a constitutional amendment. The denial of elected mayors to the special wards was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in the 1963 decision Japan v. Kobayashi et al. (also known as Tokyo Ward Autonomy Case).

In 1998 the national Diet passed a revision of the local autonomy law (effective in the year 2000) that implemented the conclusions of the Final Report on the Tokyo Ward System Reform increasing their fiscal autonomy and established the wards as basic local public entities.


The word "special" distinguishes them from the wards ( ku?) of other major Japanese cities. Before 1943, the wards of Tokyo City were no different from the wards of Osaka or Kyoto. These original wards numbered 15 in 1889. Large areas from five surrounding districts were merged into the city in 1932 and organized in 20 new wards, bringing the total to 35; the expanded city was also referred to as "Greater Tokyo" (大東京 Dai-Tōkyō?). By this merger, together with smaller ones in 1920 and 1936, Tokyo City came to expand to the current city area.

Tokyo's administrative structure before 1943 (similar to that of Osaka, Kyoto)
Tōkyō-fu ("Tokyo Prefecture")
Tōkyō-shi ("Tokyo City") Other cities (shi) towns (machi) and villages (mura)
(until 1920s subordinate to counties/districts)
(island municipalities subordinate to subprefectures)
Wards (ku)


On March 15, 1943 as part of wartime authoritarian tightening of controls[3] Tokyo's local autonomy (elected council and mayor) under the Imperial municipal code was eliminated by the Tōjō cabinet and the Tokyo city government and (Home ministry appointed) prefectural government merged into a single (appointed) prefectural government; the wards were placed under the direct control of the prefecture.


The 35 wards of the former city were integrated into 22 on March 15, 1947 just before the legal definition of special wards was given by the Local Autonomy Law, enforced on May 3 the same year. The 23rd ward, Nerima, was formed on August 1, 1947 when Itabashi was split again. The postwar reorganization under the US-led occupation authorities democratized the prefectural administrations but did not include the reinstitution of Tokyo City. Seiichirō Yasui, a former Home Ministry bureaucrat and appointed governor, won the first Tokyo gubernatorial election against Daikichirō Tagawa, a former Christian Socialist member of the Imperial Diet, former vice mayor of Tokyo city and advocate of Tokyo city's local autonomy.

Since the 1970s, the special wards of Tokyo have exercised a considerably higher degree of autonomy than the wards in other cities (that unlike Tokyo retained their elected mayors and assemblies) but still less than other municipalities in the country, making them more like independent cities than districts. Each special ward has its own elected mayor (区長 kuchō?) and assembly (区議会 kugikai?).


In 2000, the National Diet designated the special wards as local public entities (地方公共団体 chihō kōkyō dantai?), giving them a legal status similar to cities.

The wards vary greatly in area (from 10 to 60 km²) and population (from less than 40,000 to 830,000), and some are expanding as artificial islands are built. Setagaya has the most people, while neighboring Ōta has the largest area.

The total population (census) of the 23 special wards had fallen under 8 million as the postwar economic boom moved people out to suburbs, and then rose as Japan's lengthy stagnation took its toll and property values drastically changed, making residential inner areas up to 10 times less costly than during peak values. Its population was 8,949,447 as of October 1, 2010,[4] about two-thirds of the population of Tokyo and a quarter of the population of the Greater Tokyo Area. As of December 2012, the population passed 9 million; the 23 wards have a population density of 14,485 per square kilometre (37,501 per square mile).[citation needed]

The Mori Memorial Foundation put forth a proposal in 1999 to consolidate the 23 wards into six larger cities for efficiency purposes, and an agreement was reached between the metropolitan and special ward governments in 2006 to consider realignment of the wards, but there has been minimal further movement to change the current special ward system.[2]

Special wards do not currently exist outside Tokyo; however, several Osaka area politicians, led by Governor Toru Hashimoto, are backing an Osaka Metropolis plan under which the city of Osaka would be replaced by special wards, consolidating many government functions at the prefectural level and devolving other functions to more localized governments.

List of special wards

Flag Name Kanji Population
(as of November 2014)
Major districts
Flag of Adachi, Tokyo.svg Adachi 足立区 689,843 12,967 53.20 Ayase, Kitasenju, Takenotsuka
Flag of Arakawa, Tokyo.svg Arakawa 荒川区 207,714 20,364 10.20 Arakawa, Machiya, Nippori, Minamisenju
Flag of Bunkyo, Tokyo.svg Bunkyō 文京区 215,701 19,072 11.31 Hongō, Yayoi, Hakusan
Flag of Chiyoda, Tokyo.svg Chiyoda 千代田区 53,372 4,585 11.64 Nagatachō, Kasumigaseki, Ōtemachi, Marunouchi, Akihabara, Yūrakuchō, Iidabashi
Flag of Chuo, Tokyo.svg Chūō 中央区 138,840 13,639 10.18 Nihonbashi, Kayabachō, Ginza, Tsukiji, Hatchōbori, Shinkawa, Tsukishima, Kachidoki, Tsukuda,
Flag of Edogawa, Tokyo.svg Edogawa 江戸川区 679,018 13,618 49.86 Kasai, Koiwa
Flag of Itabashi, Tokyo.svg Itabashi 板橋区 543,060 16,881 32.17 Itabashi, Takashimadaira
50px Katsushika 葛飾区 442,836 12,711 34.84 Tateishi, Aoto, Kameari, Shibamata
Flag of Kita, Tokyo.svg Kita 北区 338,664 16,448 20.59 Akabane, Ōji, Tabata
Flag of Koto, Tokyo.svg Kōtō 江東区 482,945 12,077 40.0 Kiba, Ariake, Kameido, Tōyōchō, Monzennakachō, Fukagawa, Kiyosumi, Shirakawa, Etchūjima, Sunamachi, Aomi
Flag of Meguro, Tokyo.svg Meguro 目黒区 276,026 18,777 14.70 Meguro, Nakameguro, Jiyugaoka
Flag of Minato, Tokyo.svg Minato 港区 218,204 10,728 20.34 Odaiba, Shinbashi, Shinagawa, Roppongi, Toranomon, Aoyama, Azabu, Hamamatsuchō, Tamachi
Flag of Nakano, Tokyo.svg Nakano 中野区 319,658 20,504 15.59 Nakano
Flag of Nerima, Tokyo.svg Nerima 練馬区 722,919 15,011 48.16 Nerima, Ōizumi, Hikarigaoka
Flag of Ota, Tokyo.svg OtaŌta 大田区 707,347 11,707 60.42 Ōmori, Kamata, Haneda, Den-en-chōfu
Flag of Setagaya, Tokyo.svg Setagaya 世田谷区 899,286 15,484 58.08 Setagaya, Kitazawa, Kinuta, Karasuyama, Tamagawa
Flag of Shibuya, Tokyo.svg Shibuya 渋谷区 214,763 14,213 15.11 Shibuya, Ebisu, Harajuku, Hiroo, Sendagaya, Yoyogi
Flag of Shinagawa, Tokyo.svg Shinagawa 品川区 374,823 16,497 22.72 Shinagawa, Gotanda, Ōsaki, Hatanodai, Ōimachi
Flag of Shinjuku, Tokyo.svg Shinjuku 新宿区 335,320 18,394 18.23 Shinjuku, Takadanobaba, Ōkubo, Kagurazaka, Ichigaya
Flag of Suginami, Tokyo.svg Suginami 杉並区 557,883 16,399 34.02 Kōenji, Asagaya, Ogikubo
50px Sumida 墨田区 255,524 18,584 13.75 Kinshichō, Morishita, Ryōgoku
Flag of Taito, Tokyo.svg Taitō 台東区 185,057 18,359 10.08 Ueno, Asakusa
Flag of Toshima, Tokyo.svg Toshima 豊島区 294,351 22,625 13.01 Ikebukuro, Komagome, Senkawa, Sugamo
Overall 9,153,154 14,692 622.99

Notable districts

File:Tokyo Marunouchi01s3872.jpg

Many important districts are located in Tokyo's special wards:

A district with a range of restaurants, clubs and hotels; many pedestrian alleys giving it a local neighbourhood feel. Next to Roppongi, Nagatachō, and Aoyama.
A densely arranged shopping district popular for electronics, anime culture and otaku goods.
A neighborhood of Tokyo adjacent to Omotesando with parks, trendy cafes, and international restaurants.
Ginza and Yūrakuchō
Major shopping and entertainment district with historic department stores, upscale shops selling brand-name goods, and movie theaters.
Known internationally for its role in Japanese street fashion.
The busiest interchange in north central Tokyo, featuring Sunshine City and various shopping destinations.
Tokyo's center of used-book stores and publishing houses, and a popular antique and curio shopping area.
Home to most of the executive offices of the national government, as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Police.
Marunouchi and Ōtemachi
As one of the main financial and business districts of Tokyo, Marunouchi includes the headquarters of many banks, trading companies and other major corporations. The area is seeing a major redevelopment in the near future with plans for new buildings and skyscrapers for shopping and entertainment constructed on the Marunouchi side of Tokyo Station
The political heart of Tokyo and the nation. It is the location of the National Diet (parliament), government ministries, and party headquarters.
A large, reclaimed, waterfront area that has become one of Tokyo's most popular shopping and entertainment districts.
Known for upscale shopping, fashion, and design
Home to the rich Roppongi Hills area, Mori Tower, an active night club scene, and a relatively large presence of Western tourists and expatriates.
The heart of the sumo world. Home to the Ryōgoku Kokugikan and many sumo stables.
A long-time center of shopping, fashion, nightlife and youth culture. Shibuya is a famous and popular location for photographers and tourists.
In addition to the major hotels on the west side of Shinagawa Station, the former "sleepy east side of the station" has been redeveloped as a major center for business.[citation needed]
An area revitalized by being the gateway to Odaiba and the Shiodome Shiosite complex of high-rise buildings.
Location of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, and often regarded as the "center" of Tokyo[by whom?]. The area is known for its concentration of skyscrapers and shopping areas. Major department stores, electronics stores and hotels are located here. On the east side of Shinjuku Station, Kabukichō is known for its many bars and nightclubs. Shinjuku Station moves an estimated three million passengers a day, which makes it the busiest rail station in the world.
Ueno is known for its parks, department stores, and large concentration of cultural institutions. Ueno Zoo and Ueno Park are located here. Ueno Station serves commuters to and from areas north of Tokyo. In the spring, the area is a popular locale to view cherry blossoms.

See also


  1. "TMG and the 23 Special Wards". Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Retrieved 30 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 河尻, 定 (27 March 2015). "ごみ・税金… 東京23区は境界またげばこんなに違う". Nihon Keizai Shimbun. Retrieved 30 March 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Kurt Steiner, Local government in Japan, Stanford University Press, 1965, p. 179
  4. 2010 population XLS

External links