From January 1985 to May 1991, herald strains of influenza B virus were isolated in 1987 and 1989 in Japan. In both cases, influenza epidemics caused by the same type followed in the next winter season. The HA gene sequences of the influenza B viruses isolated in Japan from 1987-91, which covers two herald waves of influenza B viruses, were analysed and located on the phylogenetic tree for influenza B viruses after the B/Singapore/64 strain. Co-circulation of at least two evolutionary lineages of the HA genes existed for influenza B viruses in Japan during the period of this study. The herald viruses in one wave (1987) were genetically close to the winter isolates and were considered to be the parental viruses for the following influenza season, while in the other wave (1989) winter isolates belonged to another lineage on which one of the herald viruses was located, but they were genetically and antigenically different from the herald viruses.