Sixteen medical institutions in Japan collaborated in this study of the epidemiology of hepatitis C virus (HCV) genotypes. A total of 4176 patients with type C chronic liver disease, from the four main islands of Japan, were evaluated. Of those evaluated, 2794 had chronic hepatitis, 727 had liver cirrhosis and 655 had hepatocellular carcinoma. The HCV genotype of the patients was determined by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay based on serological genotype 1- and 2-specific recombinant peptides (SG-1 and SG-2, respectively) of the NS4 region. The prevalence of SG-1 and SG-2 HCV was similar in the four main islands of Japan. SG-1 HCV predominated in each disease category (69-76%). The percentage of patients with SG-1 HCV increased by 7%, while that of patients with SG-2 HCV decreased by 7%, as liver disease progressed in severity from chronic hepatitis to carcinoma (P < 0.001). Patients with either SG-1 or SG-2 had a similar mean age and history of blood transfusion. In conclusion, SG-1 HCV was found to predominate in Japan, and the HCV genotype was found to be related to the stage of hepatitis C disease.