Excess Na intake and insufficient K intake are well-known risk factors for CVD. International comparative studies have reported that Japan has the highest intake of Na and the lowest intake of K in the world. However, no recent study has precisely assessed Na and K intakes in Japanese adults. In the present study, Na and K intakes were estimated from two 24 h urine collections implemented in twenty-three out of forty-seven prefectures in Japan. Apparently healthy men (n 384) and women (n 376), aged 20 to 69 years, who had been working in welfare facilities were recruited, with data collection conducted in February and March 2013. The mean Na excretion was 206·0 mmol/d in men and 173·9 mmol/d in women. The respective values of K excretion were 51·6 and 47·2 mmol/d. The excretion of both Na and K varied considerably among the prefectures, and was higher in subjects with a higher BMI. In contrast, only K excretion was associated with age. After estimating the usual intakes of Na and K, it was found that none of the male subjects met the recommended Na intake values of the WHO, and that only 3·2 % met those of the Japanese government. The respective values for females were 0·1 and 5·0 %. For K intake, 7·5 % of the total subjects met the recommended values of the WHO and 21·7 % met those of the Japanese government. These findings suggest that there is an urgent need for the development of an effective intervention programme to reduce Na intake and promote K intake in the Japanese population.