By Yasu Shimizu (Japan Luggage Express)
If you are wondering where the capital of Tokyo is or what the capital city of Tokyo is, you are actually asking a very reasonable question. As reiterated on the pages of Tokyo is not the capital of Japan and Tokyo Trivia on this website, Tokyo is not a city but rather a prefecture. If it is a state or a prefecture, it must have a capital.
If you ask Japanese people where Tokyo’s capital is located, perhaps some of them would not be able to answer, or some would answer “23 wards” or “isn’t it Tokyo?” Many people may simply say “Tokyo” and, in fact, many of the maps that students use in schools say the capital of Tokyo is Tokyo. Once again, Tokyo is not a city, so how can a prefecture be the capital of a prefecture? It would be like saying the capital of California is California.
The capital city of Hokkaido is Sapporo. The capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture is Yokohama. The capital city of Saitama Prefecture is Saitama City. (It used to be Urawa city, but Urawa city and Omiya city merged and became Saitama City.)
Interestingly, the Tokyo Prefecture Office often receives inquiries, from people all over Japan as well as Tokyo Prefecture residents, about where the capital of Tokyo is located.
The official announcement that the Tokyo Prefecture Office (Metropolitan Government) made about the location of Tokyo’s capital is as follows.
1) It is defined by Local Autonomy Law that the location of the capital, i.e., the location of the prefectural office, must be defined by each prefecture's own regulation.
2) Tokyo Prefecture defines the location of the capital/prefectural office as 2-chome, Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku in accordance with the prefecture’s “Regulation as to define the location of the Prefectural Office.” (Ku is the Japanese word for ward.)
They continue: Then where does the misconception that “the capital of Tokyo is Tokyo” come from? It probably stems from the fact that the maps used in schools and elsewhere say that the capital is Tokyo. The 1:5,000,000 scale maps made by Japan’s Geographical Survey Institute have their own rules, such as “All names of shi, cho, son (city, town, and village) must be indicated.” and “The locations of capitals must be indicated with ◎.” However, in the case of Tokyo, the map states “Tokyo” right next to ◎. The Geographical Survey Institute was contacted about this and they replied that Tokyo’s 23 wards are not cities, towns or villages; therefore, they do not indicate wards’ names for the sake of convenience. Also, the word “Tokyo” was probably used as the “general term” for the 23 wards area. Also, it is speculated that the area presently known as the 23 wards area was once Tokyo city until 1943, which likely influenced the current state of confusion regarding the issue of Tokyo’s capital.
When the Japanese word for capital, “kencho shozaichi,” as in the “kencho shozaichi” (capital) of Okinawa prefecture, is translated into English, the English word is “capital.” However, Kencho shozaichi can also mean “the location of the prefectural office.” Therefore, it would not be entirely wrong to cite the street address of the prefectural office, though in general people would not say the address of a state office or prefectural office, but rather the city in which they are located.
The full address of the Tokyo Prefectural Office is as follows: 8-1 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo-to, 163-8001
*To improve readability, this article used the term “prefecture office.” However, in the case of Tokyo, it is often called “Metropolitan Government Office,” unlike in other prefectures.
The prefectural office was originally located in Chiyoda-ku (near Yurakucho and Tokyo Station) but moved to Nishi-Shinjuku on April 1, 1991. Tokyo International Forum, which opened in January 1997, was built in the area where the office was located until 1991. At the time of the prefecture office’s moving from Chiyoda-ku to Shinjku-ku, people talked about moving the prefectural office, but this moving of the capital was not even a topic.
In conclusion, the most appropriate answer to the question about where the capital of Tokyo would be Shinjuku-ku (Shinjuku ward).
*Note: If you search this topic on the internet in Japanese, you will notice that some sites say that the capital is Tokyo or some even say that it is Tokyo City. (There is no Tokyo City). As you can see there is confusion among Japanese people.