Public Photography in Japan: Laws, Rules, and Etiquette

Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media
Published in
4 min readJun 3, 2022

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After more than two years of isolation, Japan is on the cusp of reopening, albeit ever so slightly, to international tourists. This means, barring any COVID-19 flareups, it’s only a matter of time before shutterbugs from around the world once again descend upon Japan, a paradise for photography lovers.

However, before you dust off your DSLR camera and favorite fixed-focus lens, be aware that the written and unwritten rules of public photography in Japan may be stricter than what you’re used to back home. Although I’m something of a photographer myself, I wouldn’t stake my entire livelihood on the craft. So, I reached out to Tia Haygood, a Tokyo-based professional photographer and Kokoro Media alum, to help set the record straight.

A Matter of Privacy

Tia Haygood of TOPTIA Photography is an established and certified Tokyo portrait photographer.

Let’s start with the good news. Photography in most public places is legal in Japan. However, conflict can occur when it comes to Japan’s privacy laws and cultural norms that value high levels of privacy.

“It isn’t a criminal offense to photograph people’s faces in public, but it can be a civil offense if the person who has been photographed finds their likeness published anywhere. They can make a case against the photographer on the grounds of breach of privacy,” says Tia. “The threat of being identified in a creative’s work and suffering consequences for it is all the victim needs to prove in court.”

That’s why on most Japanese blogs, YouTube videos, and television programs, the faces of bystanders are blurred, an arduous and artistically painful process for any passionate creative. Tia says it best: “As an artist, mosaics and bars over the face can be such an ugly mark on one’s work.”

With this in mind, why do so many photos and videos from non-Japanese photographers and creators fail to follow this practice? One answer might be a lack of awareness of the rules and potential civil repercussions of breaking them. After all, public photography remains a gray area, and official English-language legal literature on the topic is lacking. Another reason might be a cultural one. As…

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Anthony Griffin
Kokoro Media

Founder and principal consultant (www.consultsaga.com) helping Japan-based organizations market to and communicate with international audiences.