According to previous phylogeographic studies, high mountains at low latitudes are important areas for the study of the evolutionary history of arctic–alpine plants in surviving the Pleistocene climatic oscillations. To evaluate this hypothesis, we elucidated the genetic structure of the arctic–alpine plant, Loiseleuria procumbens, in the Japanese archipelago, which corresponds to one of the southernmost limits of its distribution, using 152 individuals from 17 populations that covered the entire distribution of the Japanese archipelago and Sakhalin, in addition to samples from Sweden. Based on 854 bp of chloroplast DNA, we detected eight haplotypes. Along with haplotype distribution, strong genetic differentiation between populations in central and northern Japan was elucidated by a neighbour-joining tree (100%) and spatial analysis of molecular variance (79%), which is consistent with other alpine plants in Japan, regardless of the species' range. In addition, the southernmost populations from northern Japan showed specific genetic structure, although the remaining areas of northern Japan and Sakhalin harboured an homogenous genetic structure. Our results suggest that the populations in central Japan persisted for a long time during the Pleistocene climatic oscillation and that genetic divergence occurred in situ, supporting our hypothesis in conjunction with a previous study of another arctic–alpine plant, Diapensia lapponica subsp. obovata. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 97, 403–412.