The relationship between different types of meat intake and the risk of type 2 diabetes remains unclear. We prospectively examined the association between total meat, total red meat, unprocessed red meat, processed meat and poultry intake and the incidence of type 2 diabetes. Subjects were 27 425 men and 36 424 women aged 45–75 years who participated in the second survey of the Japan Public Health Center-based Prospective Study, and had no history of type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, IHD, chronic liver disease or kidney disease. Meat intake was estimated using a validated 147-item FFQ. OR of self-reported, physician-diagnosed type 2 diabetes over 5 years were estimated using a multiple logistic regression. A total of 1178 newly diagnosed cases of type 2 diabetes were self-reported. Intakes of total meat and total red meat were associated with the increased risk of type 2 diabetes in men but not in women. The multivariate-adjusted OR for the highest quartile compared with the lowest quartile of total meat and total red meat intake were 1·36 (95 % CI 1·07, 1·73; P for trend = 0·006) and 1·48 (95 % CI 1·15, 1·90; P for trend = 0·003) for men, respectively, and 0·82 (95 % CI 0·62, 1·09; P for trend = 0·14) and 0·77 (95 % CI 0·57, 1·02; P for trend = 0·08) for women, respectively. Intakes of processed red meat and poultry were not associated with the increased risk of diabetes in either men or women. In conclusion, elevated intake of red meat is associated with the increased risk of type 2 diabetes in Japanese men but not in women.