Panicle erectness (PE) is one of the most important traits for high-yielding japonica cultivars. Although several cultivars with PE trait have been developed and released for commercial production in China, there is little information on the inheritance of PE traits in rice. In the present study, 69 widely cultivated japonica cultivars and a double haploid (DH) population derived from a cross between a PE cultivar (Wuyunjing 8) and a drooping panicle cultivar (Nongken 57) were utilized to elucidate the mechanisms of PE formation and to map PE associated genes. Our data suggested that panicle length (PL) and plant height (PH) significantly affected panicle curvature (PC), with shorter PL and PH resulting in smaller PC and consequently more erect. A putative major gene was identified on chromosome 9 by molecular markers and bulk segregant analysis in DH population. In order to finely map the major gene, all simple sequence repeats (SSR) markers on chromosome 9 as well as 100 newly developed sequence-tagged site (STS) markers were used to construct a linkage group for quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping. A major QTL, qPE9-1, between STS marker H90 and SSR marker RM5652, was detected, and accounted for 41.72% of PC variation with pleiotropic effect on PH and PL. another QTL, qPE9-2, was also found to be adjacent to qPE9-1. In addition, we found that H90, the nearest marker to qPE9-1, used for genotyping 38 cultivars with extremely erect and drooping panicles, segregated in agreement with PC, suggesting the H90 product was possibly part of the qPE9-1 gene or closely related to it. These data demonstrated that H90 could be used for marker-aided selection for the PE trait in breeding and in the cloning of qPE9-1.