Filming with a drone in Japan part 2 - flying in restricted areas.

In the previous post I wrote generally about the restrictions and requirements when flying a drone in Japan and in this post I am going to write about about flying (or not, as the case may be) in restricted areas specifically. Restricted areas are not high population density areas in cities, but those areas around airports and similar where restrictions specific to that area apply. Here, as an example, I am going to write about my recent experience of flying a drone close to Haneda Airport in Tokyo.

flying the Inspire 2 in a restricted area near Haneda Airport

flying the Inspire 2 in a restricted area near Haneda Airport

Flying drones in around Japan airpots - 2 things to check

Flying drones in a restricted area in Japan, in this case around airports, specifically Haneda Airport, requires checking

  • if the drone will be geo-locked by DJI and unable to fly;

  • the height restrictions imposed by the Civil Aviation Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure Transport and Tourism (MLIT).

1 Will the drone be geo-locked and unable to fly?

DJI Flysafe map showing geo-restricted area around Haneda Airport Tokyo

DJI Flysafe map showing geo-restricted area around Haneda Airport Tokyo

The above screenshot is taken from the - flights in the the red circled area are by default prohibited by DJI and the drone will not take off. These are the steps required to unlock this geo-specific lock put on my DJI and enable the drone to fly

  1. Access the DJI site

  2. Enter your DJI username email address, aircraft details, proposed flight area and date, and any supporting documentation. You will need your flight controller serial number (found in the DJI Go 4 app), not your aircraft serial number. I attached my Japan country-wide flight permit and just said that the land owner had given me permission to fly (which they had), without attaching any supporting documents for this. Note that you need to make sure the fly zone you apply for is wide enough as once you are in the zone and unlocked flying you cannot fly out of it, without removing the unlock. I put my flyzone width as 300m

  3. DJI should reply within an hour or two with the result

  4. Once the unlock has been approved, you need to import this from the controller into the aircraft. You will need an internet connection for this and it can be down before the flight date so I did this at the office a few days before the flight. Go to general settings > unlocking license > App on the DJI Go 4 app, with the aircraft one and connected. You should see a list of the permitted licenses appear automatically, tap ‘sync’ if they are not.

  5. Tap ‘Import to Aircraft’ and then tap the license you want to activate. A screen similar the below should appear.


If you turn on the license outside of the zone you won’t but able to fly the drone - wait until you are inside the zone to turn on. The license can be turned on or off as many times as you need.

2. Check the legal height restrictions for drone flight

Now that the drone is physically going to be able to fly, you also need to find the height that you will be able to legally fly, as prescribed by the MLIT. There are specific links for each restricted area.

Here are the links for drone flights near Haneda Airport Narita Airport

  1. put in the address of the location you want to fly the drone at

  2. click the 「詳細地図表示」button. A close up map of the location will be shown

  3. click the exact location. A large block of text in Japanese will be shown below, but the key part is the height figure shown after 「制限高(標高):約」.

  4. It is important to know that this is the allowable flight height above sea level, not ground level. You then need to find the height of the location above sea level and subtract this from the figure shown.

  5. Find the height of the location above sea level from this site

Incidentally, permission to fly higher than the height shown at this site is unlikely to be given. Applications are made to the relevant airport authority but when I applied it was turned down.

In this post I have outlined the 2 things you need to do to fly a drone in a restricted area in Japan - get the geo-lock on the drone temporarily removed by DJI, and check on the MLIT site the height you are legally able to fly. The next post will cover our drone setup/equipment along with general tips for flying in Japan.

Filming with a drone in Japan part 1 - who can fly and where

Introduction to this series on flying a drone in Japan

In this initial post I will outline who can fly a drone and where in Japan.  The general principle in Japan is that anyone can fly a drone anywhere - as long as the location is not one that needs permission. The reality is that the places you want to film almost certainly are ones that require permission so I will outline what kinds of permissions are required and where to apply to.

In part 2 I will focus on drone flights in restricted areas and the permissions required, such as around airports in Japan.

In part 3 I will outline the drone equipment (DJI Inspire 2 with the Zenmuse X5s camera, with the Cendence Controller) we have and give some practical tips for operators specific to our setup on a commercial shoot, as well as generally pointers for flying in Japan.


Filming with a drone in Japan part 1 - who can fly and where  

Generally, anyone can fly a drone in Japan anywhere - as long as the location is not one that requires permission, the flight is no higher than 150m, is during daylight hours, and the drone is within sight of the operator. However, the reality is that, as far as I am aware from my experience flying drones in Japan, locations that don’t require permission are essentially along some rivers and the sea.

There are basically two levels of permission that need to be checked:

  1. On a national level, check whether the flight is over a restricted area.

  2. On a local level, check if the land is private or public. If the land is private then you will need permission from the landowner. If the land is public then you will need to check with the local authority whether there are any local regulations on in force for that location.

1. Check for flight permissions at the national level

The first thing to do if you are going to fly a drone in Japan is to check this flight zone map on the DJI site:

screenshot of drone no-fly zones over tokyo

screenshot of drone no-fly zones over tokyo

Make sure you have the boxed checked next to the red circle denoting the Densely Populated Areas. These densely populated areas require permission to fly from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Applications can be made online from this site, although it is all in Japanese. If the application is successful it takes about 10 working days.

A couple points to note when applying for drone flight permission

  • permission is only for the specific drone and person (or persons). There is no general permission available to fly drones in Japan. So, for example, if you lose/change your drone you will need to apply for a new permit.

  • permits for specific date and time, and a general country-wide permit (全国包括飛行許可) are available but the amount of paperwork and cost is about the same for both so I recommend the countrywide permit.

  • even if permits are given, they will be for flights under 150m, during daylight hours, and within the sight of the operator. Permission for flights outside of these boundaries will be difficult.

2. Check for flight permissions at the local level

If the flight is within a red densely populated area then, once you have the permit from the Ministry or, if it is outside the area, you then need to get permission from the landowner. Incidentally, most local authorities have banned drones in parks. 

So, for example, as we have a country-wide permit, we have flown drones within downtown Tokyo, restricted to flights over land we have permission to fly over. The problem that often arises is that filming a building often requires getting some distance away from the building, but this would require a flight over the neighboring building which would require permission from that owner. Although not legally necessary, as a courtesy, we notify the police if we will be flying in downtown Tokyo.

I have outlined the basic checks and permissions necessary to fly and drone in Japan - in the next part, based on our experience, I will explain the steps needed to fly drone in restricted areas such as near airports in Japan.