To better understand the effects of DNA methylation on the expression patterns of dmrt1 (Doublesex and Mab-3-related transcription factor 1) and cyp19a (Cytochrome P450 19a) in the Japanese flounder Paralichthys olivaceus, quantitative expressions, cellular distributions and cytosine-p-guanine (CpG) methylation patterns of these two genes in the gonads were analysed. The results showed that P. olivaceus dmrt1 expression was 70 times higher in the testis than in the ovary (P < 0·05). Its mRNA was detected clearly in spermatocytes and Sertoli cells of the testis, but weakly in the ovary. Paralichthys olivaceus cyp19a expression was 40 times higher in the ovary than in the testis (P < 0·01). Its mRNA was detected clearly in follicular cells of the ovary, but weakly in spermatocytes of the testis. The dmrt1 promoter CpGs were not methylated in the testis, whereas 57·69% were methylated in the ovary. For the cyp19a promoter CpGs, 97·5% were methylated in the testis and 73·33% were methylated in the ovary. These findings demonstrate that P. olivaceus dmrt1 and cyp19a are sex-related genes with sexual dimorphic expression, CpG methylation levels of the two genes are consistent with their expression quantities, and this epigenetic modification can influence the differential expression of genes in the gonads of P. olivaceus.