After several years of feeding at sea, salmonids have an amazing ability to migrate long distances from the open ocean to their natal stream to spawn. Three different research approaches from behavioural to molecular biological studies have been used to elucidate the physiological mechanisms underpinning salmonid imprinting and homing migration. The study was based on four anadromous Pacific salmon Oncorhynchus spp., pink salmon Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, chum salmon Oncorhynchus keta, sockeye salmon Oncorhynchus nerka and masu salmon Oncorhynchus masou, migrating from the North Pacific Ocean to the coast of Hokkaido, Japan, as well as lacustrine O. nerka and O. masou in Lake Toya, Hokkaido, where the lake serves as the model oceanic system. Behavioural studies using biotelemetry techniques showed swimming profiles from the Bering Sea to the coast of Hokkaido in O. keta as well as homing behaviours of lacustrine O. nerka and O. masou in Lake Toya. Endocrinological studies on hormone profiles in the brain–pituitary–gonad axis of O. keta, and lacustrine O. nerka identified the hormonal changes during homing migration. Neurophysiological studies revealed crucial roles of olfactory functions on imprinting and homing during downstream and upstream migration, respectively. These findings are discussed in relation to the physiological mechanisms of imprinting and homing migration in anadromous and lacustrine salmonids.