Chloroplast DNA polymorphism in four oak species (Quercus serrata, Q. mongolica var. crispula, Q. dentata and Q. aliena) was studied using collections from a total of 127 localities in Japan and South Korea on the basis of five intergenic spacers (trnD-trnT, trnT-trnL, rps14-psaB, trnS-trnT and trnQ-trnS). Although no variation existed in sequences among the four species, a single nucleotide (T/C) substitution in the trnQ-trnS intergenic spacer was found in all the four species, resulting in two haplotypes (T- and C-type). Phylogenetic analyses of the four species and related species showed that the C-type is derived and even likely of monophyletic origin, while the T-type is ancestral. Geographically, the T-type is widespread from South Korea to Japan, whereas the C-type is restricted to eastern Japan with rare exceptions. "Eastern Japan" approximately coincides with the distribution range of the boreal conifer forest during the last glacial maximum. Overall evidence suggests that the mutation from T- to C-type occurred in an individual of one of the four oak species and then was transferred to all the species by hybridization in eastern Japan, and that the Kanto District provided individuals with the C-type with a refugium during the last glacial maximum.