We performed preoperative chemotherapy with combined docetaxel, cisplatin and S-1 (DCS therapy) for treatment of advanced gastric cancer with para-aortic lymph node metastases. The aim of this study was to determine the maximum tolerated dose (MTD) and the dose-limiting toxicities. Furthermore, we evaluated the feasibility of DCS therapy in a preoperative setting, and also examined the pathological response. Fifteen patients received intravenous docetaxel and cisplatin (30, 35 or 40 mg/m2, each dose escalation was reciprocal) on days 1 and 15 and oral S-1 (40 mg/m2 twice daily) on days 1–14 every 4 weeks. After one cycle of chemotherapy, toxicities were evaluated and after two cycles of chemotherapy, patients who were judged to be candidates for curative resection underwent gastrectomy with D2 lymphadenectomy plus para-aortic lymph node dissection. The MTD of this combination was presumed to be at dose level 3 (docetaxel 40 mg/m2 and cisplatin 35 mg/m2). The dose-limiting toxicities were grade 4 neutropenia in one patient, grade 3 febrile neutropenia in two patients and grade 3 diarrhoea in two patients. Thirteen of the 15 patients received complete resection and there was no operation-related death. Good pathological responses were observed in 12 cases with lesions in the lymph nodes (complete response, n = 4; partial response, n = 8) and 11 patients with primary stomach lesions (complete response, n = 2; partial response, n = 9). This preoperative DCS therapy was considered feasible and provided a high pathological response rate in gastric cancer patients with para-aortic lymph node metastases.