The Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata) presumably differentiated from eastern rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) populations during the Pleistocene and the two species are closely related. In order to analyse speciation and subspeciation events in the Japanese macaque and to describe historical and current relationships among their populations, we sequenced and analysed a fragment of 392 bp of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region in 50 individuals belonging to six populations of Japanese macaque and compared these sequences with 89 eastern rhesus macaque control region sequences from GenBank/EMBL database. There were high genetic similarities between both species and only two positions were fixed within each species, which supports the inclusion of the Japanese macaque in a single species with eastern populations of rhesus macaques. Japanese macaque ancestors colonised Japan after the separation of the two species, estimated at between 0.31 and 0.88 million years ago (Mya). The star-like phylogeny, multimodal mismatch distribution, and lack of correlation between geographic and genetic distances are in accordance with a rapid dispersion of macaques throughout the archipelago after the arrival into Japan. The species shows low genetic variation within populations and high levels of genetic differentiation among populations with no mtDNA haplotype shared across populations. Genetic distances between Yakushima macaques (Macaca fuscata yakui) and any other population of Macaca fuscata fuscata subspecies are comparable to the distances between populations of Honshu, Awajishima, and Kyushu, not supporting the classification of Yakushima macaques as a different subspecies. © 2003 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.