Current Law

The current law on drones in Japan

Latest update

An amendment to the Aviation Act came into effect December 10, 2015.

In brief

The Act prohibits flying drones over residential areas or areas surrounding an airport without permission from the Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation.
Flying drones during night time and during an event is also prohibited.

In addition, UAVs in unrestricted areas across the country are required to stay below 150 meters (492 feet), and also be kept at least 30 meters (98 feet) from people, buildings, and vehicles.

Summary from the Civil Aviation Bureau (CAB)

Definition
The term “UAV” or “UA” means any aeroplane, rotorcraft, glider or airship which cannot accommodate any person on board and can be remotely or automatically piloted (Excluding those lighter than a certain weight (200 grams)).

Link to the CAB’s website on UAs

Prohibited Airspace for Flight
Any person who intends to operate a UAV in the following airspace is required to obtain permission from the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

(i) Airspace around airports and above certain heights above ground level.
(ii) Above densely populated areas (4,000 people per square kilometer or more).

Drone rules

Operational Limitations
Any person who intends to operate a UAV is required to follow the operational conditions listed below, unless approved by the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

(i) Operation of UAVs in the daytime.
(ii) Operation of UAVs within Visual Line of Sight (VLOS).
(iii) Maintenance of a certain operating distance between UAVs and persons or properties on the ground/ water surface.
(iv) Do not operate UAVs over event sites where many people gather.
(v) Do not transport hazardous materials such as explosives by UAV.
(vi) Do not drop any objects from UAVs.

Exceptions
Requirements stated in “Airspace in which Flights are Prohibited” and “Operational Limitations” are not applied to flights for search and rescue operations by public organizations in case of accidents and disasters.

Penalty
If the above rules are violated, the UAV operator is liable for a fine of up to 500,000 yen.

Article from the Nikkei (in Japanese)

Drones are prohibited from flying:

1. Above 150 meters (492 ft.) within airways or 250 meters elsewhere and within 9 km of airports

(Civil Aeronautics Act No. 118 of 2006 and Ordinance for Enforcement of the Civil Aeronautics Act).

2. In all of Metropolitan Tokyo’s 81 public parks and gardens.

(Tokyo Metropolitan Government ordinance) (violation may result in a fine of up to 50,000  yen (about $410).  Officials have indicated that violators will not be arrested, which is significant as the police have a right (after arrest) to detain suspects without charge for 23 days.)

  1. Other prefectures that have passed similar legislation to Tokyo as follows.

At least 17 prefectural governments including  Tokyo and five municipal governments have already introduced drone regulations.

For example, the Tottori prefectural government revised its local ordinance in March to protect the Tottori Sand Dunes.  The ordinance prohibits the operation of remote-control helicopters and other flying objects.

However, most of the local governments that have introduced regulations that prohibit flying drones are using existing local ordinances on parks or building management regulations.

These local governments treat drones, which could fall to the ground, as equivalent to launching fireworks or playing catch with a hard ball.

The governments of Tokyo and the city of Nagoya prohibit drone flights based on clauses in their ordinances that ban “acts that can obstruct the management of parks.”

And following completion of large-scale repair work at Himeji Castle in Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, there has been a spike in drones being used to shoot footage. The Himeji city government regards flying drones over the castle as “acts that obstruct the preservation of the castle” based on a city ordinance to manage the castle, and has called for restraint on drone flights.

For example: The police recently arrested a 15 year old boy in Tokyo on May 21 for threatening to fly a drone over a popular Tokyo street festival.  The police justified his arrest on the grounds that he had obstructed the organizers of the festival  from performing their duties, who had to increase security and post notices telling people not to fly drones.   So, although, at the time,  there was little regulation of drones, it seems the police can use  other laws to stop people from flying drones at or near places that they consider threaten the safety of the public.

The Sapporo municipal and the Fukuoka prefectural governments use ordinances that stipulate a ban on “acts that disturb other people.”

Since new laws are being considered, please see the page Proposed laws and rules.

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The law and news on drones and UAVs in Japan