Abstract The tectonic processes taking place along the southern part of the Japan trench are discussed on the basis of the focal mechanism of the 1938 Shioya-Oki event which consists of the five large earthquakes of M s = 7.4, 7.7, 7.8, 7.7 and 7.1 . Detailed analyses of seismic waves and tsunamis are made for each of these earthquakes, and the dislocation parameters are obtained. The total seismic moment amounts to 2.3 · 10 28 dyn.cm. The five earthquakes are grouped into either a low-angle thrust type or a nearly vertical normal-fault type. These mechanisms are common with other great earthquakes of the northwestern Pacific belt, and can be explained in terms of the interaction between the oceanic and continental plates. The vertical displacement inferred from the seismic results is in approximate agreement with the precise level data over the period from 1939 and 1897. This agreement suggests that the rate of the strain accumulation at the preseismic time is very small in the epicentral area. Repeated levelings at the postseismic time reveal a large-scale recovery of the coseismic subsidence. The postseismic deformation is one-third to one-half of the coseismic displacement. The time constant of the recovery is estimated to be 5 years or less. This type of deformation may be a manifestation of viscoelasticity of a weak zone underlying the continent. The amount of dislocation, together with the longterm seismicity, suggests a seismic slip rate of about 0.4 cm/year, which is one order of magnitude smaller than that for the adjacent regions. This suggests that a large part of the plate motion is taking place aseismically in this region. The tectonic process now taking place in the southern Japan trench can be considered to represent a stage just prior to a complete detachment of the sinking portion of the oceanic plate.