I often take pictures of buildings. Usually without knowing what the building is.

QUESTION: Are there buildings in Japan that it is forbidden by law to take pictures of?
If yes, which ones?

  • Bonus for answers that cite laws/decrees as a reference, rather than speculation.
  • This question is about law, not about etiquette.
  • My pictures never include any humans: I pay special attention to only take buildings.
  • This question is only about pictures taken from the street sidewalk, not in shops/etc.
  • I am not using a flash.

Example for the UK: Under the law of the United Kingdom one cannot prevent photography of private property from a public place, except two places defined by law.

My question is different from Taking photos in Japan because:

  • My question is about buildings shot from the street. The question there is very general, and the answer is mostly about taking pictures of people, or inside shops.
  • My question asks for official laws/decrees. The question there is about and , which is very different: its goal is politeness. My goal is to not end up in jail.
  • 4
    In almost every country, you'll have buildings that authorities do not want you to take pictures of, usually military and police facilities, but even public places can be controversial.
    – choster
    Apr 27 '15 at 15:55
  • 1
    @nic In many places, privacy is protected by law.
    – cpast
    Apr 27 '15 at 16:34
  • 2
    @yellowantphil: I would not bet on that. The following Google Street View image is not from Japan, but from my home town in Norway and has been online for several years. And yes, the leftmost of the two yellow, blurred signs says 'photography prohibited'. google.de/maps/@59.965458,11.052058,3a,84.7y,270.59h,91.49t/… Apr 27 '15 at 17:08
  • 1
    possible duplicate of Taking photos in Japan Apr 27 '15 at 18:58
  • 1
    @easymoden00b: The UK has such a list, though.
    – nic
    Apr 28 '15 at 4:57

The only case I'm aware of where it's actually illegal to photograph something from a public place is when that something is a US military base or affiliated facility in Japan. Here's the Mutual Cooperation and Security Treaty under Article VI Facilities and Areas and the Special Criminal Act Attendant upon the Enforcement of the Agreement Regarding the Status of United States Armed Forces in Japan (phew!):




Basically, violating the "confidentiality" (機密) of a US Army base by providing "documents, diagrams, etc" with a "purpose" of harming the Army is punishable by up to ten years in prison.

Now you might well reasonably object that that doesn't say anything about photography, but this is apparently how the bases' well-posted ban is justified. And if you're tempted to argue the point with the military police who'll come stop you if you try, bear in mind that Article 2 of the same law also makes it an unambiguous crime not to GTFO promptly when told to do so, with a maximum penalty one year in prison.

And, while I can't prove a negative, that's it, although I understand a similar restriction applies to Japanese army self-defence forces bases as well. There are plenty of owner-imposed restrictions on indoor photography in private places, and the aforementioned privacy restrictions that make publishing identifiable photographs of anybody tricky, but neither of these is a matter of criminal law. (Assuming, again, that you cease, desist & leave when told to do so and thus don't become a trespasser.)

  • 3
    Let's try to abbreviate that: the MCSTA6FASCAAEARSUSAFJ. Hmm, that isn't much better.
    – amaranth
    May 4 '15 at 16:56
  • Great find! Any similar document for the SDF maybe? And any other building is OK to be taken from the street, if I understand correctly? For instance bridges, dams, non-Army government buildings, etc. Thanks a lot!
    – nic
    May 7 '15 at 3:11
  • As said, I can't prove a negative, but as far as I know, everything else is OK. May 7 '15 at 4:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.