Evidence that diet is associated with breast cancer risk is inconsistent. Most of the studies have focused on risks associated with specific foods and nutrients, rather than overall diet. In this study, we aimed to evaluate the association between dietary patterns and breast cancer risk in Japanese women. A total of 49 552 Japanese women were followed-up from 1995 to 1998 (5-year follow-up survey) until the end of 2012 for an average of 14·6 years. During 725 534 person-years of follow-up, 718 cases of breast cancer were identified. We identified three dietary patterns (prudent, westernised and traditional Japanese). The westernised dietary pattern was associated with a 32 % increase in breast cancer risk (hazard ratios (HR) 1·32; 95 % CI 1·03, 1·70; Ptrend=0·04). In particular, subjects with extreme intake of the westernised diet (quintile (Q) Q5_5th) had an 83 % increase in risk of breast cancer in contrast to those in the lowest Q1 (HR 1·83; 95 % CI 1·25, 2·68; Ptrend=0·01). In analyses stratified by menopausal status, postmenopausal subjects in the highest quintile of the westernised dietary pattern had a 29 % increased risk of breast cancer (HR 1·29; 95 % CI 0·99, 1·76; Ptrend=0·04). With regard to hormone receptor status, the westernised dietary pattern was associated with an increased risk of oestrogen receptor-positive/progesterone receptor-positivetumours (HR 2·49; 95 % CI 1·40, 4·43; Ptrend<0·01). The other dietary patterns were not associated with the risk of breast cancer in Japanese women. A westernised dietary pattern is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer in Japanese women.