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23 special wards
The 23 special wards (特別区 tokubetsuku) comprise the inner city area of Tokyo Prefecture, Japan. They vary greatly in size (from 10 to 60kmē) and in population (from 40,000 to 830,000), although they resemble sizable cities in both respects. Setagaya has the most people; neighboring Ōta, the largest area.
Tokyo is not a single city; it consists of 23 special wards, each of which is like a city. The whole area of the 23 special wards is called nijūsanku (23 区) in Japanese, simply meaning "23 wards". Tokyo Prefecture stretches from remote mountain villages in the west to the Ogasawara Islands 1000km to the south, and encompasses more than two dozen cities in addition to the 23 special wards.
The combined population of the 23 special wards is 8.28 million (2002 est.), about two-thirds of the population of Tokyo Prefecture and a quarter of the population of the Greater Tokyo Area. The area has a population density of 13,333 per square kilometre (34,500 per sq. mile).
List of special wards
Differences from other wards
Wards (区 ku) are found in many other Japanese cities. Before 1943, the wards of Tokyo City were no different from the wards of Osaka or Kyoto. In 1943, when the municipal and prefectural governments were merged into a single metropolitan government, the wards were placed under the direct control of the metropolis.
Since the 1970s, the special wards of Tokyo have exercised a considerably higher degree of autonomy than other wards, making them more like independent cities than districts of a city. Each special ward has its own elected mayor (区長 kuchō) and assembly (区議会 kugikai).
In some instances, the metropolitan government of Tokyo treats the special wards as if they still comprised a single city. Water, sewage, and fire services, for instance, are administered by Tokyo for the entire 23-ward area. To finance these measures, the metropolitan government levies some of the taxes that would normally be levied by city governments, and also makes transfer payments to wards that cannot finance their own local administration.
In 2000, the Diet of Japan designated the special wards as local public entities (地方公共団体 chihō-kōkyō-dantai), giving them a status analogous to cities. Since then, the special wards have officially called themselves "cities" in the English language. However, their Japanese language designation does not differentiate them from wards in other cities.
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