Japan is divided into forty-seven administrative divisions: one metropolitan district (to--Tokyo), two urban prefectures (fu--Kyoto and Osaka), forty-three rural prefectures (ken), and one district (d --Hokkaido). Large cities are subdivided into wards (ku), and further split into towns, or precincts (machi or cho), or subdistricts (shicho) and counties (gun).
Each of the forty-seven local jurisdictions has a governor and a unicameral assembly, both elected by popular vote every four years. All are required by national law to maintain departments of general affairs, finance, welfare, health, and labor. Departments of agriculture, fisheries, forestry, commerce, and industry are optional, depending on local needs. The governor is responsible for all activities supported through local taxation or the national government.
Cities (shi) are self-governing units administered independently of the larger jurisdictions within which they are located. In order to attain shi status, a jurisdiction must have at least 30,000 inhabitants, 60 percent of whom are engaged in urban occupations. City government is headed by a mayor elected for four years by popular vote. There are also popularly elected city assemblies. The wards (ku) of larger cities also elect their own assemblies, which select ward superintendents.
The terms machi and cho designate self-governing towns outside the cities as well as precincts of urban wards. Like the cities, each has its own elected mayor and assembly. Villages (son or mura) are the smallest self-governing entities in rural areas. They often consist of a number of rural hamlets (buraku) containing several thousand people connected to one another through the formally imposed framework of village administration. Villages have mayors and councils elected to four-years terms.
Japan has a unitary rather than a federal system of government, in which local jurisdictions largely depend on national government both administratively and financially. Although much less powerful than its prewar counterpart (the Home Ministry), the postwar Ministry of Home Affairs, as well as other national ministries, has the authority to intervene significantly in regional and local government. The result of this power is a high level of organizational and policy standardization among the different local governments. Because local tax revenues are insufficient to support prefectural and city governments, these bodies depend on the central government for subsidies. The term "30 percent autonomy" is frequently used to describe local government because that amount of revenues is derived from local taxation. Yet local governments are not entirely passive. People have a strong sense of local community, are highly suspicious of the central government, and wish to preserve the uniqueness of their prefecture, city, or town. Some of the more progressive jurisdictions, such as Tokyo and Kyoto, have experimented with policies in such areas as social welfare that later were adopted by the national government.
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