To test the association between temperate forest dynamics and glacial refugia for arboreal small mammals, we studied the phylogeography of the Japanese giant flying squirrel (Petaurista leucogenys) using complete mitochondrial cytochrome b gene sequences (1140 bp). This squirrel is endemic to three of Japan's main islands: Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu. We examined 58 specimens of P. leucogenys collected from 40 localities in Japan. Additionally, two individuals with unknown sampling localities were included in phylogenetic analyses. There were 54 haplotypes of P. leucogenys. We found five major phylogroups (Northern, Central, South-eastern, South-western, and Southern). These phylogroups may have originated from glacial refugia during the Late Pleistocene. After the last glaciation, the Northern phylogroup, widely distributed in eastern Japan, could have extensively expanded northward from its refugia. By contrast, in western Japan, population expansion was restricted to western Japan. All members of four phylogroups existed in western Japan during glaciations. The complicated phylogeographical pattern of P. leucogenys populations originating from western Japan may have resulted from the long history. © 2009 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2009, 98, 47–60.