The faulting mechanism and multiple rupture process of the M = 7.4 Miyagi-Oki earthquake are studied using surface and body wave data from local and worldwide stations. The main results are as follows. (1) P-wave first motion data and radiation patterns of long-period surface waves indicate a predominantly thrust mechanism with strike N10° E, dip 20°W, and slip angle 76°. The seismic moment is 3.1 × 1027 dyne-cm. (2) Farfield SH waveforms and local seismograms suggest that the rupture occurred in two stages, being concordant with the two zones of aftershock activity revealed by the microearthquake network of Tohoku University. The upper and lower zones, located along the westward-dipping plate interface, are separated by a gap at a depth of 35 km and have dimensions of 37 × 34 and 24 × 34 km2, respectively. Rupture initiated at the southern end of the upper aftershock zone and propagated at N20°W subparallel to the trench axis. About 11 s later, the second shock, which was located 30 km landward (westward) of the first, initiated at the upper corner of the lower aftershock zone and propagated down-dip N80°W. Using Haskell modelling for this rupture process, synthetic seismograms were computed for teleseismic SH waves and nearfield body waves. Other parameters determined are: seismic moment M0 = 1.7 × 1027 dyne-cm, slip dislocation u = 1.9 m, Δσ = 95 bar, rupture velocity ν = 3.2 km s-1, rise time τ = 2 s, for the first event; M0 = 1.4 × 1027 dyne-cm, u = 2.4 m, Δσ = 145 bar, for the second event; and time separation between the two shocks ΔT = 11 s. The above two-segment model does not explain well the sharp onsets of the body waves at near-source stations. An initial break of a small subsegment on the upper zone, which propagated down-dip, was hypothesized to explain the observed near-source seismograms. (3) The multiple rupture of the event and the absence of aftershocks between the two fault zones suggests that the frictional and/or sliding characteristics along the plate interface are not uniform. The rupture of the first event was arrested, presumably by a region of high fracture strength between the two zones. The fracture energy of the barrier was estimated to be 1010 erg cm-2. (4) The possible occurrence of a large earthquake has been noted for the region adjacent to and seaward of the area that ruptured during the 1978 event. The 1978 event does not appear to reduce the likelihood of occurrence of this expected earthquake.