We detected the sP depth phase at small epicentral distances of about 150 km or more in the seismograms of shallow earthquakes in the NE Japan forearc region. The focal depths of 1078 M > 3 earthquakes that occurred from 2000 to 2006 were precisely determined using the time delay of the sP phase from the initial P-wave arrival. The distribution of relocated hypocentres clearly shows the configuration of a double-planed shallow seismic zone beneath the Pacific Ocean. The upper plane has a low dip angle near the Japan Trench, increasing gradually to ???30?? at approximately 100 km landward of the Japan Trench. The lower plane is approximately parallel to the upper plane, and appears to be the near-trench counterpart of the lower plane of the double-planed deep seismic zone beneath the land area. The distance between the upper and lower planes is 28-32 km, which is approximately the same as or slightly smaller than that of the double-planed deep seismic zone beneath the land area. Focal mechanism solutions of the relocated earthquakes are determined from P-wave initial motion data. Although P-wave initial motion data for these offshore events are not ideally distributed on the focal sphere, we found that the upper-plane events that occur near the Japan Trench are characterized by normal faulting, whereas lower-plane events are characterized by thrust faulting. This focal mechanism distribution is the opposite to that of the double-planed deep seismic zone beneath the land area. The characteristics of these focal mechanisms for the shallow and deep doubled-planed seismic zones can be explained by a bending-unbending model of the subducting Pacific plate. Some of relocated earthquakes took place in the source area of the 1933 Mw8.4 Sanriku earthquake at depths of 10-23 km. The available focal mechanisms for these events are characterized by normal faulting. Given that the 1933 event was a large normal-fault event that occurred along a fault plane dipping landward, the earthquakes that currently occur just beneath or oceanwards of the Japan Trench are probably its aftershocks, suggesting that aftershock activity continues to the present day, 70 years after the main shock. ?? 2009 The Authors, Journal compilation ?? 2009 RAS.