A seroepidemiologic study of herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and 2 (HSV-2) was performed on Japanese adults. Serum samples collected between 1985-9 from a total of 536 healthy adults, female prostitutes, males with sexually transmitted diseases (STD), homosexual men, and pregnant women were studied by immunodot assays using HSV type-specific antigens, glycoproteins G (gG1 and gG2). HSV-1 infections correlated mostly with age and was widely prevalent among subjects < 40 years. HSV-2 prevalence varied greatly among subgroups defined by sexual activity and was associated with risk behaviours for prostitution, infection with STD, and homosexual activity. HSV-2 seroprevalence was highest among prostitutes (80%), lowest among pregnant women (7%), and intermediate in STD patients (23%) and homosexuals (24%). Because HSV-1 infection during childhood has been decreasing, primary genital HSV-2 infection, with its higher frequency of clinical manifestations, will become a greater burden to the public health in Japan.