We conducted a polymerase chain reaction--restriction fragment length polymorphism (PCR-RFLP) analysis of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene to elucidate the detailed genetic population structure of Japanese wild populations of medaka, Oryzias latipes. The analysis of 1,225 specimens collected from 303 sites identified 67 mitotypes. Subsequently we determined the nucleotide sequences of the complete cytochrome b gene (1141-bp) to clarify the phylogenetic relationships among mitotypes. The phylogenetic tree based on nucleotide sequences indicated three major clades (A, B and C) that differed by 11.3-11.8%, corresponding to three clusters previously identified by RFLP analysis of entire mitochondrial DNAs. The geographic distribution of mitotypes in clades A and B was fully concordant with the Northern and Southern Populations defined by allozymes. Clade A could be subdivided into three subclades and clade B into eleven, with sequence divergences among subclades of 1.3-5.8%. Each distribution of mitotypes in subclades roughly corresponded to that of mtDNA haplotypes in subclusters previously identified. Mitotypes in clade C were found only in the Kanto district. The phylogenetic relationships and the estimated divergence times suggest that three Japanese clades originated from a common ancestor and were separated during the Pliocene, and that the regional differentiation of subclades was closely connected with the geological history of the Quaternary. This study has also demonstrated the possibility of artificial disturbance of natural distribution especially in the Kanto district and the superior efficacy of PCR-RFLP analysis as a simple method for detecting genetic variation and artificial gene flow of medaka.