Abstract Pollen and radiolarian analyses of sediment from four piston cores located along a south-north transect (28–44°N) off the east coast of Japan yield detailed records of variations in terrestrial and marine climate of this region for the last 140 ka. The last interglacial climate of the southern half of Japan was characterized by increased temperature and precipitation (at least across central Japan) compared with today. Off southern Japan, surface were cooler during summer than at present; off central Japan, both summer and winter sea-surface temperatures were cooler than today. Early glacial (115-71 ka BP) climate across central and southern Japan alternated between wet and dry warm temperate, with surface waters offshore warmer in summer and winter than during the penultimate interglacial. Temperatures and precipitation in Japan reached low levels early during the full glacial phase and remained relatively low throughout much of the full glacial (71-14 ka BP). Cold sea-surface temperatures at all our sites coincided with these cold conditions on land. Temperatures across much of Japan began to increase steadily during the deglacial, with surface waters offshore remaining at or near their glacial lows. Holocene vegetation patterns, which continued to reflect an increase in temperature, reached a maximum during early to mid Holocene. Surface waters offshore, however, remained relatively cool during the early Holocene with temperature maxima at most western Pacific sites occurring in mid to late Holocene. We propose specific changes in the seasonal positions of atmospheric pressure cells to explain these climate variations that have occurred across the northeast Asian/northwest Pacific region through the most recent interglacial/glacial cycle. Results of this exercise show that there are no major discrepancies between climate reconstructions for mainland Japan inferred from pollen and those for the western Pacific derived from radiolarians.