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Quaternary lavas from the NE Japan arc show geochemical evidence of mixing between mantle-derived basalts and crustal melts at the magmatic front, whereas significant crustal signals are not detected in the rear-arc lavas. The along-arc chemical variations in lavas from the magmatic front are attributable almost entirely to geochemical variations in the crustal melts that were mixed with a common mantle-derived basalt. The mantle-derived basalts have slightly enriched Sr–Pb and depleted Nd isotopic compositions relative to the rear-arc lavas, but the variation is less pronounced if crustal contributions are eliminated. Therefore, the source mantle compositions and slab-derived fluxes are relatively uniform, both across and along the arc. Despite this, incompatible element concentrations are significantly higher in the rear-arc basalts. We examine an open-system, fluid-fluxed melting model, assuming that depleted mid-ocean ridge basalt (MORB)-source mantle melted by the addition of fluids derived from subducted oceanic crust (MORB) and sediment (SED) hybrids at mixing proportions of 7% and 3% SED in the frontal- and rear-arc sources, respectively. The results reproduce the chemical variations found across the NE Japan arc with the conditions: 0·2% fluid flux with degree of melting F=3% at 2 GPa in the garnet peridotite field for the rear arc, and 0·7% fluid flux with F=20% at 1 GPa in the spinel peridotite field beneath the magmatic front. The chemical process operating in the mantle wedge requires: (1) various SED–MORB hybrid slab fluid sources; (2) variable amounts of fluid; (3) a common depleted mantle source; (4) different melting parameters to explain across-arc chemical variations.