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.