Since the 1970s, the special wards of Tokyo have exercised a considerably higher degree of autonomy than the wards in other cities, making them more like independent cities than districts. Each special ward has its own elected and .
In 2000, the National Diet designated the special wards as , giving them a status similar to cities. Since then, they have been calling themselves "cities" instead of wards in English, even though the Japanese designation of tokubetsuku is unchanged. They have also taken over certain public services metropolitan government, such as garbage collection and disposal.
The wards vary greatly in area (from 10 to 60 km²) and population (from less than 40,000 to 830,000), and some are expanding as artificial islands are built. Setagaya has the most people, while neighboring Ōta has the largest area.
The total population (census) of the twenty-three special wards was 8,483,140 as of October 1, 2005, about two-thirds of the population of Tokyo and a quarter of the population of the Greater Tokyo Area. The twenty-three wards have a population density of 13,800 per square kilometre (35,600 per square mile). As of August 2008, the population was 8,731,434 according to the Japan Statistical Agency.
|Name||Kanji||Pop.*|| Density|| Area||Major districts|
|Adachi||足立区||629,392||11,830.68||53.20||Ayase, Kitasenju, Takenotsuka|
|Arakawa||荒川区||194,777||18,262.25||10.20||Arakawa, Machiya, Nippori, Minamisenju|
|Bunkyō||文京区||194,933||16,009.28||11.31||Hongō, Yayoi, Hakusan|
|Chiyoda||千代田区||43,802||3,763.06||11.64||Nagatachō, Kasumigaseki, Ōtemachi, Marunouchi, Akihabara, Yūrakuchō, Iidabashi|
|Chūō||中央区||104,997||10,344.53||10.15||Nihonbashi, Kayabachō, Ginza, Tsukiji, Hatchōbori, Shinkawa, Tsukishima, Kachidoki, Tsukuda,|
|Kita||北区||330,646||15,885.67||20.59||Akabane, Ōji, Tabata|
|Kōtō||江東区||436,337||10,963.24||39.8||Kiba, Ariake, Kameido, Tōyōchō, Monzennakachō, Fukagawa, Kiyosumi, Shirakawa, Etchūjima, Sunamachi, Aomi|
|Meguro||目黒区||267,798||18,217.55||14.70||Meguro, Nakameguro, Jiyugaoka|
|Minato||港区||205,196||10,088.30||20.34||Odaiba, Shinbashi, Shinagawa, Roppongi, Toranomon, Aoyama, Azabu, Hamamatsuchō, Tamachi|
|Nerima||練馬区||702,202||14,580.61||48.16||Nerima, Ōizumi, Hikarigaoka|
|Ōta||大田区||674,590||11,345.27||59.46||Ōmori, Kamata, Haneda, Den-en-chōfu|
|Setagaya||世田谷区||855,416||14,728.23||58.08||Setagaya, Sangenjaya, Shimokitazawa, Tamagawa|
|Shibuya||渋谷区||205,512||13,337.13||15.11||Shibuya, Ebisu, Harajuku, Hiroo, Sendagaya, Yoyogi|
|Shinagawa||品川区||353,887||15,576.01||22.72||Shinagawa, Gotanda, Ōsaki|
|Shinjuku||新宿区||309,463||16,975.48||18.23||Shinjuku, Takadanobaba, Ōkubo, Kagurazaka, Ichigaya|
|Suginami||杉並区||534,981||15,725.49||34.02||Kōenji, Asagaya, Ogikubo|
|Sumida||墨田区||237,433||16,079.49||13.75||Kinshichō, Morishita, Ryōgoku|
|Toshima||豊島区||256,009||19,428.44||13.01||Ikebukuro, Komagome, Senkawa, Sugamo|
Many important neighborhoods are located in Tokyo's special wards: Akasaka : A district with a range of restaurants, clubs and hotels; many pedestrian alleys giving it a local neighbourhood feel. Next to Roppongi, Nagatachō, and Aoyama. Akihabara : A densely arranged shopping district for electronics and otaku goods. Aoyama : A neighborhood of Tokyo with parks, an enormous cemetery, expensive housing, trendy cafes and international restaurants. Includes the Omotesandō subway station. Ginza and Yūrakuchō : Major shopping and entertainment district with department stores, upscale shops selling brand-name goods, and movie theaters. Harajuku : Known for street/teen Japanese fashion Ikebukuro : The busiest interchange in north central Tokyo, featuring Sunshine City and various shopping destinations. Jinbōchō : Tokyo's center of used-book stores and publishing houses, and a popular antique and curio shopping area. Marunouchi and Ōtemachi : The main financial and business district of Tokyo has many headquarters of banks, trading companies and other major corporations. The area is seeing a major redevelopment with new buildings for shopping and entertainment constructed in front of Tokyo Station's Marunouchi side. Nagatachō : The political heart of Tokyo and the nation. It is the location of the Diet, government ministries, and party headquarters. Odaiba : A large, reclaimed, waterfront area that has become one of Tokyo's most popular shopping and entertainment districts. Omotesandō : Known for upscale shopping. Roppongi : Home to the rich Roppongi Hills area, an active night club scene, and a relatively large presence of Western tourists and expatriates. Shibuya : A long-time center of shopping, fashion, nightlife and youth culture. Shinagawa : In addition to the major hotels on the west side of Shinagawa Station, the former sleepy east side of the station has been redeveloped as a major center for business. Shinbashi : An area revitalized by being the gateway to Odaiba and the Shiodome Shiosite complex of high-rise buildings. Shinjuku : Location of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. The area is best known for Tokyo's early skyscrapers, erected in the 1970s. Major department stores, electronics stores and hotels can also be found here. On the east side of Shinjuku Station, Kabukichō is known for its many bars and nightclubs. Shinjuku Station moves an estimated three million passengers a day, making it the busiest in the world. Ueno : Ueno Station serves commuters to and from areas north of Tokyo. Besides department stores and shops in Ameyoko, Ueno boasts Ueno Park, Ueno Zoo and major national museums. In spring, Ueno Park and adjacent Shinobazu Pond are popular places to view cherry blossoms.