The geographical distribution of chloroplast DNA (cpDNA) haplotypes and nuclear ribosomal internal transcribed spacer (nrITS) genotypes of Japanese Corylopsis (Hamamelidaceae), which consists of four species, was investigated. Two hundred and five individuals belonging to four species from 30 populations, covering the entire geographical range, were studied. Based on approximately 1108 bp of the three non-coding regions of cpDNA, nine haplotypes were detected, and each was distinguished from adjacent haplotypes by one substitution. Based on approximately 507-bp nrITS sequences, 47 genotypes were detected, for which three clades were identified in the phylogenetic analysis. There was inconsistency between the cpDNA haplotypes, nrITS genotypes, and classification of Corylopsis taxa, possibly because of incomplete lineage sorting or introgressive hybridization. The distribution of the haplotypes was highly structured geographically, and NST (0.893) was significantly greater than GST (0.819), implying that the current distribution of Corylopsis species was structured phylogeographically during Quaternary climatic oscillations. The haplotype composition and results of analysis of molecular variance showed that the populations in Hokuriku were highly divergent, suggesting that they are long-term persistent populations arising from refugia during the Quaternary climatic oscillations. Refugial populations in Chugoku and Shikoku may have lost genetic diversity because of a bottleneck resulting from a small population size, followed by post-glacial range expansion. Pre-existing refugia may have been so small that the subsequent range expansion replaced the pre-existing genetic structure. © 2008 The Linnean Society of London, Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2008, 157, 501–518.