Evolution of the vertebrate jaw has been reviewed and discussed based on the developmental pattern of the Japanese marine lamprey, Lampetra japonica. Though it never forms a jointed jaw apparatus, the L. japonica embryo exhibits the typical embryonic structure as well as the conserved regulatory gene expression patterns of vertebrates. The lamprey therefore shares the phylotype of vertebrates, the conserved embryonic pattern that appears at pharyngula stage, rather than representing an intermediate evolutionary state. Both gnathostomes and lampreys exhibit a tripartite configuration of the rostral–most crest–derived ectomesenchyme, each part occupying an anatomically equivalent site. Differentiated oral structure becomes apparent in post–pharyngula development. Due to the solid nasohypophyseal plate, the post–optic ectomesenchyme of the lamprey fails to grow rostromedially to form the medial nasal septum as in gnathostomes, but forms the upper lip instead. The gnathostome jaw may thus have arisen through a process of ontogenetic repatterning, in which a heterotopic shift of mesenchyme–epithelial relationships would have been involved. Further identification of shifts in tissue interaction and expression of regulatory genes are necessary to describe the evolution of the jaw fully from the standpoint of evolutionary developmental biology.