Please help me understand the differences between these 3 words meaning "city": [町]{まち}, 都市 and 都会.

According to this article hosted by tadasiikeigo.com, 都市 is for big cities:


But the 都市 wikipedia page states that size is not relevant for the word 都市:


  • 1
    Related: japanese.stackexchange.com/q/48973/5010
    – naruto
    Oct 29, 2021 at 5:46
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    The first one says that 都市 are more "densely populated" and "flourishing" than 町. It doesn't actually say anything about population size.
    – Leebo
    Oct 30, 2021 at 0:17
  • @naruto Thanks for the link. If I understand correctly, 都会 and 都市 have roughly the same meaning of metropolitan areas, but 都市 has an administrative and technical flavor to it, while 都会 is more colloquial. Assuming this is correct, it looks like the wikipedia article is misleading, as 都市 would apply only to large cities, and therefore 都市 could not be said to be unrelated to size.
    – lacton
    Oct 30, 2021 at 6:28
  • @Leebo You are right. I am lumping together cities with a dense population and cities with a large population size, but that could be a cultural misconception on my part. Maybe Japan has high density cities with a small population, and/or cities with large population but very low density.
    – lacton
    Oct 30, 2021 at 6:34
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    I think such concepts exist outside of Japan as well. Rhode Island has a place called Central Falls, which has a population of 22,000 or so, but within a space of only 1.3 square miles. It's referred to as a city, even though I grew up in a "town" with more than 2 times as many people. It was 20 times larger in area. At the same time, it was not my intention to suggest that population size doesn't matter with regard to 都市, just that there didn't actually seem to be a conflict in the two sentences.
    – Leebo
    Oct 30, 2021 at 6:55

2 Answers 2


They are difficult to summarize in a few words because they have to be discussed from both the perspective of population and the perspective of formality level.

In the perspective of population, roughly speaking:

  • (大都会: >1,000,000 people)
  • 都会: >100,000 people
  • 都市: >10,000 people
  • 町: >500 people

In the perspective of formality, 都会 and 町 are relatively informal words that are commonly used in casual conversations and song lyrics. On the other hand, 都市 is a relatively formal and/or academic word typically used in news articles and academic contexts. We say 町に行こう (referring to any populous district nearby) but almost never say 都市に行こう. We say 都市開発 ("city/town development") or 都市計画 but never say 都会開発. When I hear the word 都市開発, I think of large cranes and railway, whereas when I hear the word 町作り, I think of something more human like flea markets, flower gardens and local matsuri.


In addition to the excellent points @naruto made about scale and level of formalism, here are some additional elements I collected from native speakers.

都会 is an abstract concept while 都市 is about individual large cities.

都会 cannot be counted, while 都市 can, as in 「東北地方にいくつかの都市があります」.

都会 is the opposite of 田舎. 都市 does not have an opposite. It is a stage beyond 集落, 村, and 町. Hence the story called 「田舎のネズミと都会のネズミ」.

The borders of 都会 are vague, while a 都市 has clear, official borders.

都会 is a kind of environment, characterized by '賑やか', '人が多い', '夜でも明るい', the presence of buildings, and so on. It is strongly associated with a lifestyle, that's why you can say 「都会暮らしは大変」but not 「都市暮らし」. You can say 「都会に住みたい」but not 「都市に住みたい」. In the same vein, 都会的 exists, but not 都市的.

都市 is about the cities themselves, not a fuzzy concept. 未来都市 makes sense, but 未来都会 does not. 「東京は日本で一番大きい都市です」

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