A village (mura or son) refers to a sort of community, a municipality.
It indicates an area where a small number of houses are sparsely scattered.
Many residents of 村 engage in primary industry (agriculture, forestry and fishery). 村 is also written as 邑 or 邨. 村 is called 村落 (read as sonraku, a rural community) in sociology and geography. Antonym of 村--village is city (urban area).
A 'spontaneous village' to be mentioned often indicated a unity of several rural communities. The word 村--village is used as a unit of an administrative district (a municipality), too. A 'village' used in this sense indicates an area much more spacious than a rural community.
A village also describes a specified small world or community (for example, a parliament village, or a tent village).
History of the Japanese 'village'
A premodern 'village', also called a spontaneous village, was a unit of community where a group of people share a living space. A 'village' in the Edo period (1615-1868) was a unit of autonomous community of farming ranks that developed from medieval 惣村 (soson, a self-governing rural community). During the Edo period, there were more than 60,000 spontaneous villages. In the early Medieval Ages, a unit of a landlord's territorial land was 'shoen koryo' (a private estate and a public land) and the underlying unit of 'myoden' (a rice field lot under the charge of a nominal holder). In contrast, during the Sengoku period (Warring States period, 1482-1558) or the Edo period, a unit of a landlord's territorial land was a village or a town.
During the Edo period, a farming rank was one of social status in which a farmer had 'kokudaka' (crop yield) in his village and his duties and rights were approved by paying his nengu' (land tax) to the landlord, whichever his regular vocation was agriculture, labor industry, or commerce. The village corresponded to a town (cho), which was a unit of autonomous community in urban areas. It was mostly dependent on landlords whether each of their territories was a village or a town. Many communities in urban sites were regarded as 'villages'.
Almost all the modern and postmodern administrative districts called Oaza have developed from those once existed spontaneous villages. They have survived as the smallest unit of regional autonomy and as an organization unit of residents' association (for example, a regional association, a neighborhood association) or a local fire brigade of a fire company.
During the Meiji period, uniting spontenuous villages was promoted because of the centralization of power. Consequently, a new 'village' was formed by uniting several once existed villages. The newly-established village is called also an administrative village, in contrast to a 'spontaneous village'.
Japanese administrative villages
The Local Autonomy Act, based on the Constitution of Japan Article 92, defines a village (son, mura) as one of local public authorities. A village is treated equally to a prefecture, city, and town.
Each municipality defines whether to read its village(s) 'son' or 'mura'. While some prefectures decide to read all their villages as 'son,' others decide to read their villages as 'mura'. Some other prefectures decide to mixedly read some of their villages as 'son' and the others as 'mura'. Few prefectures read their villages as 'son': only Tottori prefecture, Okayama prefecture, Tokushima prefecture, Miyazaki prefecture and Okinawa prefecture (In Yamaguchi prefecture, villages used to be read as 'son' but these villages were united into one town and now there disappeared a village).
Tokyo Prefecture used to read its 新島本村 as 'Niijima Honson' (村 was read as 'son'). The name was replaced by '新島村' (Niijima-mura) on April 1, 1992. This can be regarded as 'exceptional' because it was from the toponym, '本村' (Honson).