Learning Japan Prefectures

Since I started reading the news in Japanese, I am telling myself that I must learn Japan prefectures. I have finally taken the first step by doing my own map with furigana and English.

Why learn Japan prefectures and region?

I suppose that Japanese learners who studied Japanese at school or university have gone through Geography classes and have a good overview of the country’s layout. The problem with self-learning is that nobody forces you to learn what you don’t like. And me, I don’t like Geography, so I have never taken the trouble to learn Japan’s regions, prefectures and main cities, though of course, I do know some of them.

But then, I was very limited when it comes to reading the news. Every time I saw a prefecture name in an article, I had to copy-paste it in Google to find its pronunciation and see where it was. With all the unknown words I have to struggle with in any political article, it just added an unnecessary difficulty. Worse, I sometimes wasn’t able to recognise a prefecture’s name as such, particularly in titles where the kanji 県 is often omitted.

In novels too, I hadn’t a clue when a prefecture was mentioned. Contrary to reading the news (where I have my browser opened so that googling something does not take much time) I would not interrupt my reading a novel to look up a prefecture name in Google, I could not even copy-paste it. So I would just ignore the information. I knew that a prefecture was mentioned, but I could not tell which one or where it was.

And of course, the same goes for films, culinary specialities, festivals, famous places, people and so on. In fact, knowing a country’s geography is important…

japan prefectures - kanji only

My goal

I want to be able to:

  • know approximately where a prefecture is on a map. At least, I would like to be able to associate a prefecture to a region
  • read without frowning and sighing any prefecture names in kanji when I see one.

How I will proceed

I have decided to not use Anki and try a more natural learning system.

To remember where a prefecture is and associate images with it:

First, what I will systematically do is look up a prefecture on my map whenever I hear or read about one. I think that this is the best way to remembering, the problem is that it will take ages before I learn the 47 prefectures. But then, why not? I am not in a hurry.

What I will also do is to write down somewhere any information relative to one prefecture. The idea is not to look for information relative to a prefecture on Google but to collect information that I am coming across during my other activities. For example, if I read a magazine with an interesting article about a festival or any other particularity linked to a region, I could write it down. When I read the news, I will associate events to prefectures. For example, 愛媛県・えひめけん is strongly associated with the Kake Gakuen scandal in my head because I see the prefecture’s name in almost every article I read on the subject.

japan prefectures - kanji and furigana

To be able to read the kanji of the prefectures:

While doing the maps, I realised that reading prefectures’ name is not as daunting as it looks like. A lot of pronunciation can be deduced like 秋田・あきた, 愛知・あいち or 徳島・とくしま.

To remember the pronunciation of the kanji, I will use the maps that I have printed. I made my own maps using other maps I found on the Internet and crossing information to have both English and kanji on the same map.

I will use the map “kanji only” to try to read the prefectures out loud and check with the English or furigana map. I also made a “map only” version in case I am able one day to place every prefecture on the map.

japan prefectures - kanji and English

PDF link to the maps, please feel free to use them!


I am glad that I have taken some time, at last, to start studying the prefectures. I think that I can learn relatively quickly how to read the names when I only have the kanji, and this will be an immense improvement. It will take me a lot more time to be able to place all the prefectures on the map and start associating them with images of their own, but maybe this could become a new 2018 goal.