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Can You Fly a Drone in Japan?

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Have you always adored Japanese culture and have finally decided to visit the Land of the Rising Sun in person?

You’re thinking the only thing that could elevate your trip would be to bring your drone with you, but you have no idea what the drone laws in Japan look like.

Can you fly a drone in Japan?

The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau or JCAB, which oversees flight operations in Japan, does permit drones. That includes automated BVLOS drones, which until very recently were banned. When flying, you must always follow Japan’s drone laws.

Today’s article will deeply examine Japan’s current drone rules and laws so you can plan a safe, fun, and memorable trip.

Before you book your tickets, make sure you keep reading.

Can you fly a drone in Japan? #

In Japan, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau or JCAB regulates the usage of drones throughout the country.

JCAB sometimes does this with assistance from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, another Japanese government agency.

You can see JCAB’s website here, but keep in mind your Internet browser will need a translation service if you want to read the site’s contents. Well, unless you already know Japanese, that is!

JCAB permits drones across Japan provided pilots follow all relevant laws and regulations.

Up until December 2022, Level 4 drones were strictly prohibited.

The Japanese government recently moved to reverse its ban on Level 4 automated BVLOS drones.

While this is excellent news, JCAB and the Japanese government have also now instituted new airworthiness tests and drone licensing systems to accommodate for the change.

Further, drone laws throughout Japan have new verbiage to ensure that UAV pilots make safe decisions when flying over residential areas.

Allow us to explain the various drone levels in Japan:

  • Level 1 drone is a manual drone that must always stay within your visual line of sight.
  • Level 2 drone is automated and used for commercial purposes, usually asset inspections or land surveying. Pilots must always keep these drones within their line of sight.
  • Level 3 drone is also automated but can only go beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) in uninhabited areas.
  • Level 4 drone is an automated BVLOS drone that can fly in urban and residential areas.

Drone laws in Japan #

It’s certainly an interesting time to fly a drone in Japan, without a doubt. While some laws stay in flux, most have not changed, so let’s go over Japan’s drone laws now.

You must register your drone #

About six months before changing its tune on Level 4 drones, Japan made it mandatory that all unmanned aircraft in the country have an active registration from June 20th, 2022 onward.

Even lightweight drones weighing 100 grams aren’t exempt, but it’s best if your drone weighs less than more.

The reason? Pilots with drones surpassing 100 grams must learn the rules of the Civil Aeronautics Act[1], which Japan enforces for heavier drones.

When you register a drone in Japan, you’ll receive a registration ID that you must stick to your drone.

Further, Japanese drone law requires your drone to have a remote ID ability such as RID equipment.

Registering your drone doesn’t come for free. You’ll pay between 900 and 2,400 yen to register one drone, which is $7 to $18.86 USD.

You can follow this link to begin the registration process.

You cannot use your drone to drop items #

While you can carry most materials with your drone in Japan, you cannot drop said items.

Even if you do so accidentally, it’s still illegal, and dropping items intentionally is prohibited.

Do not use your drone to carry hazardous materials #

When transporting items via drone, cameras, accessories, and even food deliveries (if you’re a commercial pilot) all get the green light.

However, you cannot carry explosives, flammable liquids, and poisonous materials according to JCAB.

Don’t fly your drone over event sites #

In Japan, the type and scope of the event don’t factor into whether you can fly your drone around an event site. When an event occurs, you must not use your drone.

Stay 30 meters from vehicles, people, and structures #

Japan has many incredible sights, but you can’t go too close to any structure in the country. Your flight limit is 30 meters or 98.4 feet.

That limit also applies to vehicles and people.

Your drone has to stay within your visual line of sight #

We mentioned this earlier, but we’ll reiterate it anyway. To legally fly a drone in Japan, you must always keep your UAV within your visual line of sight when using a Level 1 or Level 2 drone.

This rule does not apply to Level 3 and Level 4 drones.

You cannot fly your drone at night #

Japan comes alive at night, especially in populous city centers like Tokyo. Just don’t plan to use your drone once the sun sets, as JCAB outlaws the activity.

Do not use your drone recklessly or carelessly #

As the pilot, you’re the one in charge of your drone. You should never use your drone to chase or harass people, damage property, or otherwise behave carelessly.

Do not use your drone when under the influence #

JCAB prohibits pilots from imbibing substances like alcohol or drugs and flying a drone.

Stay away from prohibited areas #

Certain parts of Japan are off-limits unless you have prior consent. The list includes nuclear sites, defense-related facilities, political offices, foreign diplomatic offices, and key national facilities.

Don’t fly your drone around Imperial Palace, the Supreme Court, the Prime Minister’s Official Residence, and the Diet Building.

According to JCAB:

“Any person who intends to operate UA over and around airports, key national facilities, foreign diplomatic offices, defense-related facilities and nuclear sites is required to obtain consent from an administrator of the facility and to report the flight information to the Prefectural Public Safety Commission prior to the operation.”

If your drone route takes over Densely Inhabited Districts or DIDs or near some airports, then you must contact the Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism for permission.

The included airports are Naha Airport, Fukuoka Airport, Osaka International Airport, Kansai International Airport, Chubu International Airport, Tokyo International Airport, Narita International Airport, and New Chitose Airport.

You cannot fly your drone more than 150 meters over the ground #

In Japan, you can’t fly any higher than 150 meters over the ground level, which is 492.1 feet.

Recreational and commercial pilots don’t need a license but must have flight permission #

When flying commercially or recreationally, you can forego obtaining a drone license in Japan.

However, you must apply over 10 days with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism before you can fly.

The 10 days do not include holidays or weekends.

Recreational and commercial pilots should get liability insurance #

JCAB does not require pilots to have liability insurance to use a drone in Japan, but you should still want to have it just in case.

What happens if you violate Japan’s drone laws? #

Violating drone laws in your own country is a terrible enough idea, as you’ll usually incur steep punishments.

Should you violate any of JCAB’s drone laws, what will happen?

The Japanese government will fine you at most 500,000 yen. That’s quite a hefty penalty, as it converts to $3,893.25 USD.

Further violating the law from there will land you in even hotter water. You could receive yet another fine, this time for 300,000 yen or $2,335.95 USD, and face a year of imprisonment in Japan.

Have you always dreamed of flying a drone in Japan? Well, great news, you can!

You must follow JCAB drone laws, which means limiting your flight altitude, staying away from large crowds, and avoiding infrastructure like political buildings. Happy flying!

References:1. Civil Aeronautics Act (link)


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