At volcanic arcs, fluids released from the subducting slab lower the solidus of the mantle wedge and cause melting. Furthermore, slab melts may infiltrate the mantle wedge, and have been suggested to generate adakitic (residual garnet) signatures at some arc volcanoes. However, experimental work indicates that the garnet stability field will expand in the lower overriding crust in the presence of somewhat less hydrous melts, suggesting that such signatures may also develop at crustal levels. Here we use geothermometry and plagioclase hygrometry of mafic eruptives from southwest Japan to demonstrate that the adakitic compositions of associated intermediate magmas are of lower crustal origin due to a decrease in the water content of parental melts, and are not generated by partial melting of the eclogitic subducting slab at elevated temperatures. Lower crustal melt evolution at reduced water contents may represent an important process for generating adakitic signatures in all tectonic settings that have previously been considered to enhance slab melting. Our results demonstrate that magmatic water plays a key role in the differentiation of arc magmas in modern and ancient subduction settings.