The aim of this study was to assess antidepressant efficacy and safety of venlafaxine extended release in Japanese patients with major depressive disorder (MDD). We carried out a double-blinded, placebo-controlled, randomized study using fixed (75 mg/day) and flexible (75-225 mg/day, most patients attained to 225 mg/day) doses, followed by the long-term, open-labeled, extension study. Outpatients aged at least 20 years diagnosed with MDD were included. The primary efficacy measure was change from baseline in the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAM-D17) score at week 8; secondary efficacy measures included the Montgomery-Åsberg Depression Rating Scale, the Quick Inventory of Depressive Symptomatology self-report version, HAM-D6, and Clinical Global Impression scales in the double-blinded study. Overall, 538 patients were randomized; significant differences were observed in the primary efficacy variable in the fixed-dose group (-10.76; P=0.031), but not in the flexible-dose (-10.37; P=0.106) group compared with placebo (-9.25). However, the flexible-dose group showed significant efficacy in several secondary measures. Treatment-related adverse events in the treatment period were 51.7 and 67.8% in the fixed-dose and flexible-dose groups, respectively, versus 38.8% with placebo. Throughout the study period, no Japanese-specific adverse events were observed. Thus, venlafaxine extended release was efficacious and safe for MDD treatment in Japan.