Japanese have a lower incidence of hip fracture than Caucasians despite having lower bone mass. Hip fractures usually occur after a fall, and differing incidence rates of falls might explain the observed differences in hip fracture rates. To explore this hypothesis, we studied falls and related conditions among 1534 (624 men, 910 women) community-dwelling people aged 65 years and over in Japan and compared the prevalence of falls to Japanese-Americans living in Hawaii and to published studies of Caucasians. In Japan, 9% of the men and 19% of the women reported one or more falls during the past year. The prevalence of falls increased with age in both genders and was greater among women compared with men. In logistic regression models, having musculoskeletal disease, physical disability or limited activity increased the risk of falls by two to four times in both genders. Most fallers (92%) reported fear of future falls, and about one third of fallers reported that they went out less often as a result of their falls. Compared with native Japanese, the age-standardized prevalence of falls among Japanese-Americans was similar but about twice as high for Caucasians, which may explain the lower hip fracture risk of Japanese.