We document the MRI features in seven patients with Japanese encephalitis. MRI was carried out on a 1.5 T system within 10-60 days of onset. In all the patients MRI revealed bilateral thalamic lesions, haemorrhagic in five. Signal changes were present in the cerebrum in four patients, the midbrain and cerebellum in three each, the pons in two and the basal ganglia in one. The lesions were haemorrhagic in three of the four patients with lesions in the cortex, two of the three with lesions in the midbrain and cerebellum, but the pontine lesions were haemorrhagic in both patients. Spinal cord involvement was seen in one of the three patients who underwent MRI. In two patients MRI was repeated 3 years after the onset, showing marked reduction in abnormal signal; and all the lesions gave low signal on both T1- and T2-weighted images. Bilateral thalamic involvement, especially haemorrhagic, may be considered characteristic of Japanese encephalitis, especially in endemic areas.