Japan Data

Prefecture Populations in 1920 and Today

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This year marks the hundredth anniversary of the first census conducted in Japan, and here we look at how prefecture populations have changed since 1920.

Japan’s national census takes place every five years. The scheduled census for 2020 comes a century after the nation’s first, in 1920. What was Japan like 100 years ago? Here we compare prefecture populations then and now.

Unsurprisingly, Tokyo was top in both 1920 and 2019. Japan’s population is now concentrated in the Pacific Belt that stretches from Ibaraki Prefecture to Fukuoka, taking in the cities and surrounding areas of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka. In 1920, however, the population was more dispersed. Back then, Tochigi and Gunma Prefectures in the Kantō region were not in the top 20. Moreover, Kanagawa Prefecture, which is now the second-most populated prefecture in Japan, ranked fifteenth in 1920, behind Ibaraki and Chiba Prefectures.

One surprisingly populated area back in 1920 was Niigata Prefecture, which ranked seventh. Niigata was a prosperous area that attracted wealth and residents thanks not only to its rice production but also because during the Edo period (1603–1868) it was a key shipping hub and stop along the Kitamaebune shipping route. At one point during the Meiji period (1868–1912) Niigata was the most populated prefecture in Japan, but it fell down the population ranking when the movement of goods shifted from shipping to land-based transportation.

Most-Populated Prefectures in 1920 and 2019

1920 2019
Tokyo 3,699,428 Tokyo 13,942,856
Osaka 2,587,847 Kanagawa 9,200,166
Hokkaidō 2,359,183 Osaka 8,823,453
Hyōgo 2,301,799 Aichi 7,552,873
Fukuoka 2,188,249 Saitama 7,337,330
Aichi 2,089,762 Chiba 6,279,026
Niigata 1,776,474 Hyōgo 5,463,609
Nagano 1,562,722 Hokkaidō 5,248,552
Shizuoka 1,550,387 Fukuoka 5,110,113
Hiroshima 1,541,905 Shizuoka 3,639,226
Kagoshima 1,415,582 Ibaraki 2,868,041
Fukushima 1,362,750 Hiroshima 2,807,987
Ibaraki 1,350,400 Kyoto 2,583,140
Chiba 1,336,155 Miyagi 2,303,160
Kanagawa 1,323,390 Niigata 2,222,004
Saitama 1,319,533 Nagano 2,049,023
Kyoto 1,287,147 Gifu 1,988,931
Kumamoto 1,233,233 Tochigi 1,942,312
Okayama 1,217,698 Gunma 1,937,626
Nagasaki 1,136,182 Okayama 1,891,346

Created by Nippon.com based on data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo © Pakutaso.)

Tokyo population prefecture