North Korea had earlier notified Japan it planned to send up a satellite between Wednesday and Dec. 1, after two failed attempts to launch spy satellites earlier this year.
The Japanese government issued an emergency warning for residents in the south to take cover from the possible threat of a North Korean missile.
Over its emergency broadcasting system, the Japanese government told residents in Okinawa to take cover inside buildings or underground. Public broadcaster NHK cited a Japanese defence ministry source as saying the missile was likely to be a satellite.
It later said the missile appeared to have flown past towards the Pacific Ocean around 10:55 p.m., and it lifted its emergency warning.
South Korea’s military said the rocket was believed to be carrying a reconnaissance satellite and was launched toward the south from the Tongchang-ri area, which houses the North’s main Sohae satellite launch facility. Japan’s Coast Guard said on Tuesday the North gave notice of the launch in the direction of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea. South Korea’s state maritime safety agency issued a warning to vessels of the planned launch for the same areas as previous launches. North Korea had tried to launch what it called spy satellites twice earlier this year but failed.
State media KCNA reported on Tuesday that it was North Korea’s “sovereign right” to strengthen its military power against the U.S.-led space surveillance system, and it defended Pyongyang’s military satellite development, citing a researcher at the nuclear-armed state’s space agency.
In brief remarks to reporters upon arriving at the prime minister’s office, Japan’s Fumio Kishida repeated that North Korea’s launch was a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a threat to the safety of Japanese citizens.
“We have lodged a stern protest and condemned North Korea in the strongest terms,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday Kishida said his country’s defence systems, including the Aegis destroyers and PAC-3 air defence missiles, stood ready for any “unexpected situation” that arose.
Japan did not take steps to destroy the rocket, the Coast Guard said, citing the defence ministry.
There were no immediate reports of damage from the launch, said Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, who called North Korea’s frequent missile launches a threat to peace and safety.
“These launches, even if it were with the aim to launch a satellite, counters the relevant U.N. resolutions banning the use of ballistic missile technology,” he said.
North Korea had notified Japan, as the coordinating authority for the International Maritime Organization for those waters, of its satellite launch plans previously.
Pyongyang considers its space and military rocket programmes a sovereign right, and has said it plans a fleet of satellites to monitor moves by U.S. and South Korean troops.
It has made multiple attempts to launch what it called “observation” satellites, two of which appeared to have successfully reached orbit.
Analysts say that spy satellites are crucial to improving the effectiveness of North Korea’s weapons.
The launch would be the first since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un toured Russia’s modern space station in September where President Vladimir Putin promised to help Pyongyang build satellites.
On Monday, South Korea’s military issued a warning demanding North Korea call off any plan to launch a satellite, describing it as an act of provocation threatening South Korean security.
It said it had done its part to comply with a 2018 agreement with the North not to engage in actions that raise regional tension while the North repeatedly violated it by launching missiles and flying drones.
South Korean officials have said they are reviewing the possibility of suspending some parts of the agreement.
After the May launch attempt, South Korea retrieved the wreckage of the satellite from the sea and said an analysis showed it had no meaningful use as a reconnaissance platform.
On Tuesday U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson entered the South Korean port of Busan on a previously scheduled visit as part of an increased state of readiness by allies against North Korea’s missile and nuclear threats, South Korea’s navy said.
South Korea separately plans to launch its first reconnaissance satellite from California on Nov. 30 with the aid of the United States.