Old Provincial Names (Kyukokumei) (旧国名)

Old provincial names are the names of the ryoseikoku (province) that were used up to the early Meiji period.

For example, Ryukyu was a dependent state of the Satsuma domain (the Ryukyu Kingdom); however, at the time of the Meiji restoration the Japanese government made it 'Ryukyu Province'; and after having been annexed to Kagoshima Prefecture in 1871, Ryukyu was separated from Kagoshimas Prefecture in 1879 and became Okinawa Prefecture.

In this article, we will address the issues of how the old provincial names were referred to and were used in the modern times and in our time. Refer to the article Provinces of Japan in this encyclopedia for the description of provinces up to the early Meiji period during which the old provinces were existed.


The name of ryoseikoku (provinces) and the divisions have been used for a long time even after the provinces were ceased to be used as administrative unit. However, after the Meiji period the old provincial names were almost never used for administrative purposes; as the result, they rapidly fell into disuse.
At present, the old provincial names are used in several ways; first, people use them to distinguish the same place names in different places; second, people use them when they do not like to use prefecture names that are taken from a city name or a county name instead of coming up with their own and most prefecture names are settled using such substitution; third, people use old provincial names locally; (a typical example is 'Shinano Province' or 'Shinshu' which are consciously called by people in Nagano Prefecture except in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture where Nagano City is located.)

There are no new provinces although the term 'old provincial names' (kyukokumei) has the word 'old' (kyu) in it. The reason the names of the provinces are called old provincial names (kyukokumei) is merely a matter of avoiding confusion between the country as a state (kuni) and the provinces which were within the country; or a reason might be that the prefecture names were used as if they supplanted the provincial names in family register and in mailing address that were used in mail.

Incidentally, prefectures are that which replaced feudal domains (Haihan chiken [abolition of the han system and establishment of the prefecture system]).

Regional Names

The relationships between provinces and prefectures are varied depending on which areas they are located; there are prefectures which straddle plural provinces (Shizuoka Prefecture, Mie Prefecture, Hyogo Prefecture, and so on) as well as provinces that straddle plural prefectures (Musashi Province, Tanba Provinces, Bizen Provinces, and so on). There are cases in which the geographical area of a province accords with that of a prefecture as well there are cases in which a prefetural border is drawn in such a way in that a province is divided into two halves.

In the prefectures where they straddle plural provinces people in the prefectural government are conscious of the names of the provinces as regional division and sometimes the names of the provinces are taken up in the administrative division; examples: Hida Province Regional Development Bureau of the Subordinate Organization of Gifu Prefecture; the Bureau for the Residents of the Tajima Province of the subordinate organization of the prefecture office of Hyogo Prefecture and so forth. In the cases where the area of a prefecture accords with that of a province, the name of the old province is used as another name of the prefecture; such prefectures include Yamanashi Prefecture (Kai Province), Toyama Prefecture (Ecchu Province), Shiga Prefecture (Omi Province), Nara Prefecture (Yamato Province), Tokushima Prefecture (Awa Province), Ehime Prefecture (Iyo Province), Kochi Prefecture (Tosa Province), Kumamoto Prefecture (Higo Province), Miyazaki Prefecture (Hyuga Province). Sometimes the old provincial names are used for advertizing a place as the sightseeing spot or for stirring love for one's home district as the old provincial names carries with them the images of history and tradition.

The old provincial names that became the names of the subprefectures of Hokkaido.

Nemuro Subprefecture, Kushiro Subprefecture, Tokachi Subprefecture, Ishikari Subprefecture, Hidaka Subprefecture, Iburi Subprefecture, Shiribeshi Subprefecture, Oshima Subprefecture. Of these, the area of the Hidaka Subprefecture accords with that of the Hidaka Province. In some of the assigned areas of jurisdiction for subprefectures based on the ordinance by the Hokkaido Government, there are cases in which the names of the old provinces are used.

The old provincial names used for names of cities, towns, and villages (avoidance of overlapping)

When a town or village of the same name existed within the same county, the central government had the town or village to rename to avoid overlapping during which the mergers of municipalities were made in the Meiji period; yet the same names were left as they were when they existed in the different counties. The central government worked with the local governments in the whole country to avoid overlapping of the names of the cities partly because cities were fewer in number. This principal of avoiding the same names in cities was succeeded to the subsequent generations in which the numbers of cities were increased.

The method often used to avoid the existence of plural cities with the same name was to attach the old provincial names to the city names that were to be duplicated city names (examples: Hitachiota City, Musashimurayama City, Minokamo City, Omihachiman City, Kawachinagano City, Yamatokoriyama City, Tosashimizu City, Bungo-ono City). When towns and villages reorganized themselves as a city, the ones that became a city in a later time than the one that shared the same name tended to attach the old provincial names to the city names that were to be duplicated. Such examples include Owariasahi City in Aichi Prefecture against Asahi City in Chiba Prefecture, Rikuzentakada City in Iwate Prefecture, Yamatotakada City in Nara Prefecture, Akitakada City in Hiroshima Prefecture, and Bungotakada City in Oita Prefecture against old Takada City in Niigata Prefecture (now a part of Joetsu City); of these cities Akitakada City made its name change after Takada City became a thing of the past. In a similar example, there is Hitachi-Omiya City which became a city after old Omiya City, Saitama Prefecture ceased to exist. As a special example, there is a case in which Sendai City in Kagoshima Prefecture became Satsumasendai City by attaching the old provincial name of Satsuma to Sendai which was homophony of Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture although the Chinese characters that make up the word is different from that of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture; this city name was created at the time of merger (the nearby local governments disliked the image of incorporated merger and this was one reason why Sendai City became Satsumasendai City).

Izumiotsu City and Izumisano City in Osaka are created against Otsu City in Shiga Prefecture and Sano City in Tochigi Prefecture respectively; One reason is that Izumi Province (Present day Izumi City) is also known as 'Senshu' and another reason is that the pronunciation of Izumi with two Chinese characters and Izumi with just one Chinese character, in which the first character is deleted, is the same; from these reasons Izumi-OtsuCity in Osaka is created against Otsu City in Shiga prefecture by adding one character from the old provincial name and Izumisano City is created against Sano City in Tochigi Prefecture for the same reasons.

The naming of Hitachinaka City comes from Hitachinaka Port (located in the old Katsuta City) and the name of this port has the old provincial name Hitachi in front of Naka Port to distinguish from Nakaminato Fishing Port; in this way Hitachinaka City followed the naming method of avoiding the duplication of city name when the new city name was needed to be created at the time Katsuta City and Nakaminato City merged. Establishment of Naka City is after the establishment of Hitachinaka City.

Old provincial names used in the naming of cities, towns, and villages (for other purposes)

There are cases in which old provincial names are used for the purposes other than the avoidance of overlapping. In these cases many municipalities took one character from an old provincial name; also there were cases in which an old provincial name was prefixed the name of municipalities.

There are three types in terms of the purposes for using old provincial names for names of cities, towns, and villages apart from avoidance of duplication; the first type is to use old provincial names to show direction; (examples: Higashiomi City, Nantan City, Sennan City, Minamiawaji City, Unnan City, Anan City, Seiyo City, Nichinan City, Minami-Satsuma City); this type of names is largest in number; the second type is to use old provincial names to indicate that in the city there existed kokufu or the provincial capital once; (examples: Kofu City, Hofu City); third type is to use the old provincial names to show the topography of the city; (examples: Musashino City, Sagamihara City, Kinokawa City); there are also other type which does not fall into the above three types; (examples: Joetsu City, Joyo City, Kyotango City).

Jo' in Joetsu City is the same as 'kami' in 'kamigata' (former name for a region of Japan referring to the cities of Kyoto and Osaka); therefore, it indicates that the direction close to Kyoto and in this case, the direction corresponds to the 'southwest.'
The meaning of 'Yo' in Joyo City is almost synonymous with 'the south,' however, it has other meanings beside the direction; this city name is characterized by the multiple meanings of 'Yo.'
Kyotango City was formed by the merger of six towns; among the six towns the old 'Tango-cho' existed; therefore, from consideration to other five towns, 'Kyo' of Kyoto Prefecture was attached to Tango-cho from consideration to other five towns even though there existed no other Tango-cho elsewhere. The naming of Kyotanba-cho was also made with the similar reason.

In addition, there is a naming method in which a character is taken from two old provincial names and make a city name by combining them; Such examples include Joso City (whole area Shimousa Province) and Minamiboso City (whole area Awa Province). As explained earlier, 'Joetsu' in Joetsu City means 'most close to kamigata (Kyoto) within Echigo Province'; therefore, the meaning of Joetsu used in Joetsu City is different from 'Joetsu' meaning 'Kozuke Province and Echigo Province' (Example: Joetsu Bullet Train).

Every old province has another name made up with two characters beside the one we usually learn first and in case to take one character from the old provincial names to make a city name, in general it is taken from the provincial names of two-character; however, there are exceptions (example: Ito City ['I' is taken from Izu Province], Shunan City ['Shu' is taken from Suo Province; other name for Izu Province and Suo Province is Zu province and Bo Province respectively.

Kahoku in Kahoku City is written in Japanese syllabary characters and not in the Chinese characters; it is thought that 'Kahoku' is derived from Kahoku County; however, it is possible to think that 'Kahoku' is derived from 'Kahoku' meaning the northern part of Kaga Province. In fact the City is located in the northern end of Kaga Province.

Old provincial names taken for names of cities, towns and villages

Some cities, towns, and villages took the names of old provinces, to which they belonged, without making any changes. In Japan before the Meiji period there existed names of counties that were the same with the provincial names within the provinces; however there was no towns and villages that had the same names with the provincial names; therefore, it turns out that the names of towns and villages that are the same with the provincial names are almost all new place names made after the modern times.

There are no specific conditions of using old province names for cities, towns and villages, but there are tendencies on tacit conditions that a provincial capital or a provincial shrine is located, or they belong to the same counties with the same names of their provinces. However, these conditions have not come to be considered gradually, and at the time of big consolidation in Heisei period, controversies occurred in many cases in which municipality names were forcibly decided. Counterarguments always included that there is no other plan of compromise; therefore, it can be said that naming of cities, towns, and villages with old provincial names has the aspect of compromise.

Early examples include Kushiro City, Izumo City, Kitami City, Bizen City, Nagato City, Mino City, Ise City, Buzen City, Hyuga City, Izumi City, Nemuro City, Tosa City, Kaga City, Settsu City, Harima-cho; during the Heisei era (the end of 20th century) municipalities with old provincial names further increased; the examples include Ishikari City, Izu City, Izunokuni City, Kai City, Shimotsuke City, Hida City, Echizen City, Iga City, Shima City, Tanba City, Awaji City, Mimasaku City, Awa City, Chikugo City, Wakasa-cho. Besides, as for Settsu City and Tosa City, their names under the town organization in the past were Mishima Town and Takaoka Town, when they adopted municipal system, they took old provincial names in order to avoid overlapping with the existing municipal names.

When the old provincial names are adopted, 'city' or 'town' must be attached to avoid misunderstanding; for example, if someone just says 'Izumo,' or 'Nagato,' these names mean Izumo Province and Nagato Province respectively; therefore, if the speaker means Izumo City or Nagato City, he needs to speak the entire name without omitting 'city.'
In Hokkaido the old provincial names were used for only brief period of time; therefore, contrary to usual cases, in many cases the names without "province' mean existing municipalities such as in the cases of Numuro City, Kitami City, Ishikari city, Teshio-cho; however, in case of Kushiro City, addition of 'city' is required to distinguish it from the homonymous Kushiro-cho as in the case of Tosa City in Kochi Prefecture and Tosa-cho.

Concerning municipalities which changed characters for names and adopted old provincial names virtually, there are Mutsu City, Iwaki City, Sanuki City, Oushu City, and Koshu City. Hitach City is located in Hitachi Province and this provincial name has its own story with it; that is, a long time ago this region was said to be 'a road to Hitakami Province (old name for the northern region of Japan; then this 'Hitakami' was shortened to 'Hitachi,' and one day Mitsukuni TOKUGAWA, the domain head of the Mito Domain, saw the rising sun in this region and praised the beautiful scene and he changed the characters which make up the provincial name from 'the province we can see the high sun' to 'the sun rising province' although the sound is the same for both names.

Some municipalities took their names from the county names which correspond to the provincial names; these municipalities were the part of the county; the examples include Iyo City, Tosa-cho, and Satsuma-cno (former Satsuma-cho in which Chinese characters were used). All of these are examples in which cities, towns, and villages took the names from the place names covering the wide area and in which they occupy a part for their names.

In some cities, it occurred that the extent of the area became completely matched with that of the old provinces through mergers; Sado City, Tsushima City, and Iki City are the city names given after the extent of the area became completely matched with that of the respective province.

There are cities, towns and villages with the same names of province, but located in different places from provinces having the same names. There are several theories about the naming process of Hidaka City; however, it was made by combining the initials of Mt. Hiwada and Koma County and it has no relation with Hidaka Province of the southern part of Hokkaido (or the origin of the provincial name, Hitakami Province); The origin of the name of Aki City in Kochi Prefecture lies in Aki County, Tosa Province (Kochi Prefecture) and it has no relation with Aki Province in the western part of Hiroshima Prefecture. On the other hand, both of the names of Isezaki City in Gunma Prefecture (Kozuke Province) and Isehara City in Kanagawa Prefecture (Sagami Province) originate in constructing branch shrines of Ise Shrine and therefore they are related to Ise Province although the relation is indirect.

Yamato City, Yamato Town and Yamato village have another different reasons. " Yamato " was a popular new area name at the time of town & village consolidation in prewar days and they took the name " Yamato " as another name of Japan, not related with old Yamato Province.

Station name

JR and its predecessor the Japanese National Railways had a rule in that when a new station was built and the place name of the new station was going to overlap with the existing place name, a name of an old provincial name to be prefixed to the name of the station that came later. The examples include Kosugi Station in Toyama Prefecture (Imizu City) and Musashikosugi Station in Kanagawa Prefecture, Otsuka Station In Tokyo and Mikawa Otsuka Station in Aichi Prefecture, Fuchu Station in Hiroshima Prefecture and Izumi Fuchu Station in Osaka Prefecture, Sunakawa Station in Hokkaido and Izumi Sunakawa Station in Osaka Prefecture, several Nakayama Stations that exist in Japan and Shimousa Nakayama Station. Banshu Akaho station in Hyogo Prefecture also follows this rule, but except for that station other stations are prefixed with " Harima " in the case such as Harima Shingu station. In case of Banshu Akaho station, the former Banshu Akaho station operated by Akaho raiway company in the place near the present Banshu Akaho station was famous throughout Japan and this is the reason why the present Akho station is prefixed with Banshu. The old Japanese National Railways (JNR) requisitioned a private company Iiyama Railways by the war time acquisition and made it into the Iiyam Line; at that time JNR made the three stations that had the 'Shinshu' in front of the station name into 'Shinano' like Shinano Asano Station; it is said that the National Railways tended to avoid the station name with 'Shinshu' in front of the station name. Moreover, among the above examples, Musashi Kosugi station and Izumi Sunakawa staion were prefixed with old provincial names at the time of nationalization.

In case of private railways, especially in case of connecting line with JNR, they put station names with prefixes so that they distinguished JNR stations of similar names from their stations. In cases of examples cited above, the name Izumi Fuchu Station already existed when the station was under the management of the private company Hanwa Electric Railways. On the other hand, there were cases in which station names were distinguished through means of adding company names or some other words; in the case of Joshu Dentetsu in Gunma, 'Joshu' is added to Tomioka Station and the station name is made to 'Joshu Tomioka Station'; the reason for this naming lied in that if the provincial name of 'Kozuke' is added, there is a possibility of being confused with 'Ueno' (Taito-ward in Tokyo) or 'Ueno' of Ueno City; Japanese National Railways and East Japan Railway Company used neither 'Kozuke' nor 'Joshu,' following the examples cited above and made a new station name by adding the current prefecture name Gunma. In the former Iwashiro Province area, It was only Fukushima-kotsu Co., Ltd. that added 'Iwashiro' in front of the existing station name as 'Iwashiro Shimizu Station'; the former Japanese National Railways and East Japan Railway Company used the regional name of 'Aizu' like Aizu Takada Station.

A rule is that when a station name is made using a name of city or town or village which accords with the old provincial name, to add the 'city' or 'town' or 'village' at the end of the name. The examples include Minoshi Station, Iseshi Station, Izumoshi Station, Nagatoshi Station, and Harima-cho Station. An exception is Settsu Station in Osaka Prefecture in which the old provincial name is used as the name of the station without attaching the name of the city; however, Settsushi Station will be open in 2010 along the Hankyu Kyoto Main Line; Iwaki Station in Fukushima Prefecture accords with the old provincial name and in it the city name is not added, but the name is in the Japanese syllabary characters. As an example in which there is no city, town or village corresponding to old provincial name, we have Kii station in Wakayama Prefecture, and this station name stems from the fact in which the provincial capital was located in that place.

The examples of the names of stations in which the old provincial names of other places are used and the old provincial names have no relation with the station in question include two Yamato Stations which exist in Ibaraki Prefecture and Kanagawa Prefecture respectively, Hyuga Station in Chiba Prefecture, Awaji Prefecture in Osaka Prefecture, Iwaki Station, Tajima Station, Iwami Station in Nara Prefecture, Iwashiro Station in Wakayama Prefecture, and Aki Station in Aki City in Kochi Prefecture of which we have already mentioned; the station in Miyazaki City in Miyazaki Prefecture is Hyugashi Station following the examples already explained.

In some cases, station names with old provincial names are called by neighboring residents as their ordinary names without old provincial names. There was a time that even some railway corporations omitted the old provincial name and called the stations with the old provincial names omitting added part; for example, in case of Kintetsu Corporation, announcements in the trains, broadcasting in the station precincts, and in the rollsigns, the old provincial names were omitted up to 2004 (an example: Yamato Saidaiji Station was called Saidaiji Station). Takadashi Station of Kintetsu Corporation was Takada-cho Station when it was opened; Takada-cho became Yamatotakada City in 1948; at that time the station named Yamato-Takada Station already existed; for this reason the corporation took the bold step of changing the station name into Takadashi Station in which the old provincial name of 'Yamato' is omitted.

Car Registration Plate

In car registration plate in Japan, the old provincial names are used for the following numbers. In the parentheses are the Branch Office of the Transportation Bureau, which is responsible for managing the car registration numbers for the district, and the Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration.

Kushiro (The main office building of the Kushiro Transport Branch Office of the Hokkaido District Transport Bureau)

Kitami (Kitami Transport Branch Office, Hokkaido District Transport Bureau)

Iwaki (Iwaki Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and RegistrationFukushima Transport Branch Office, Tohoku District Transport Bureau)

Sagami (Sagami Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration, Kanagawa Transport Branch Office,Kanto District Transport Bureau)

Hida (Hida Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration, Gifu Transport Branch Office, Chubu District Transport Bureau)

Izu (Numazu Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration, Shizuoka Transport Branch Office, Chubu District Transport Bureau) * Gotochi (local) Number

Mikawa (Nishimikawa Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration, Aichi Transport Branch Office, Chubu District Transport Bureau)

Owari Komaki (Komaki Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration, Aichi Transport Branch Office, Chubu District Transport Bureau)

Izumi (Izumi Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration, Osaka Transport Branch Office, Kinki District Transport Bureau)

Except for the above, the number which is the combination of each one character from 2 provinces, is as follows.

Chikuho (Chikuho Office for Motor Vehicle Inspection and Registration, Fukuoka Trasnport Branch Office, Kyuushu District Transport Bureau)

Among these, Kushiro number includes Nemuro Province and Chishima Province, and Izumi number includes a part of Kawachi Province. In case that there are plural Transportation branches and Car Inspection & Registration Offices, they often take names from city names in their locations and it can be said that in cases of Kushiro and Izumi, their locations only happen to be the cities which bear the names of old provincial names.

[Original Japanese]