In this study, the relationship between water quality (as represented by major inorganic ion concentrations) and land use characteristics is examined for a small river basin which runs through the urbanizing area of central Japan. Water samples were taken from 24 sites at base flow and analyzed, and the proportions of the various land uses associated with the respective drainage basins were calculated using a digital land-use map (scale: 1:25000). The electrical conductivity (EC) of the water ranged from 84.5 to 600 μS cm−1. Ca2+ and Na+ were the major cations, accounting for 77% of all cations. Among the anions, HCO3− was dominant (56%), followed by Cl− (24%), SO42− (13%) and NO3− (7%). Applying principal component analysis to land use in the drainage basin yielded three principal components. The first principal component expressed the degree of occupation by residential areas, the second indicated the degree of urban developing area (i.e., fast-developing and industrial areas), and the third showed the degree of coverage with farmland and green space. The residential area showed significant positive correlations with K+, Mg2+, Ca2+, NO3−, HCO3−, EC and TMI (total major ions). Urban developing area showed significant positive correlations with Ca2+, Cl−, HCO3−, EC and TMI as well as weak negative correlations with NO3− and SO42−. Industrial area showed weak positive correlations with Na+ and Cl− and a moderate negative correlation with NO3−. Farmland showed significant positive correlations with NO3− and SO42−; these ions are present due to fertilizers and the biological activity of plants. Forest area is inversely related to almost all ions, indicating the need for this form of land use in order to maintain river water quality.