Seawater and organic material (live and/or dead matter deposited on any substratum submersed in seawater) were collected during the cool weather season from a coast of the Seto-Inland Sea, Japan, and analyzed to determine Vibrio parahaemolyticus densities and the occurrence of pathogenic strains, defined as those possessing tdh and/or trh genes by the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), using isolated DNA from enrichment culture of the samples. About 95% of the samples were positive for V. parahaemolyticus (with densities of 3 to >1400 cells per 100 ml water or 10 g organic samples) by the most-probable-number (MPN)-PCR technique with species-specific toxR primers, but only 40% were positive by the conventional MPN-culture technique (with densities ranging from 3 to 240 cells per 100 ml water or 10 g organics). Furthermore, the tdh and trh genes were positive in 55% and 20% of samples, respectively, by the MPN-PCR technique. No tdh and trh gene-positive strains were isolated by the conventional MPN-culture procedure. The difference in detection between the MPN-culture and the MPN-PCR techniques appeared to be significant and may be attributed to different detection sensitivities and other factors.