North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the Sea of Japan on Thursday, the Japanese and South Korean governments said, prompting a Japanese emergency alert system to warn it may land near Hokkaido.

The government later withdrew the warning, however, as it was determined the intercontinental ballistic missile would not land near Japan's northern main island.

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters the missile, fired eastward from North Korea at a steep angle, did not fall within Japan's territory or exclusive economic zone.

Photo taken in Tokyo on April 13, 2023, shows a TV screen displaying a J-Alert message issued by the Japanese government regarding a ballistic missile fired by North Korea. (Kyodo)

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said that an intermediate-range or longer ballistic missile was fired at around 7:23 a.m. from near Pyongyang, flying about 1,000 kilometers before falling into the sea.

A South Korean military official said Pyongyang may have tested a new type of solid-propellant ballistic missile.

At a press conference in Tokyo, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno lambasted North Korea's latest missile launch as a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, saying it was "totally unacceptable."

Tokyo lodged a strong protest with Pyongyang via the Japanese Embassy in Beijing, the top government spokesman said. Japan and North Korea have no diplomatic ties.

Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi also said later in the day that North Korea's repeated missile launches pose a "grave and imminent threat" to Japan's security.

U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson condemned North Korea's firing of long-range ballistic missiles, saying it "needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region."

The United States "will take all necessary measures to ensure the security" of its key Asian allies of Japan and South Korea, she said in a statement.

The Japanese government initially issued a J-Alert warning that urged Hokkaido residents to take shelter as the missile was likely to land in the vicinity of the region around 8 a.m., but it was later retracted through a separate alert system.

Matsuno said the missile disappeared off the radar immediately after detection. The government, however, issued the warning from the perspective of protecting the safety of the people, he said, adding it was "appropriate."

North Korea's first missile launch since March 27 came as leader Kim Jong Un has stressed the need to expand Pyongyang's war deterrence, while the United States and South Korea have carried out joint military drills.

According to Seoul, North Korea has not responded to regularly held calls from the South since late last week, fanning speculation Pyongyang may soon conduct its seventh nuclear test and first since September 2017.

Taiwan's Foreign Ministry also strongly condemned the North's missile launch, calling it "irresponsible behavior of the totalitarian" government that poses "a serious challenge to the rules-based international order."

Taiwan will keep an eye on North Korea's various acts of military provocation and cooperate with like-minded countries to jointly promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and curb the aggression of authoritarianism, the ministry added.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin showed consideration for Pyongyang's move, saying at a press conference Thursday that the current tension on the peninsula can be attributed to recent U.S.-South Korea military drills.

"We hope all parties will remain calm, stop pressuring or confrontation," Wang said.

He especially sought Washington's "concrete actions" to respond to the North's "legitimate concern" and create conditions for the de-escalation of the situation on the peninsula and resumption of dialogue involving relevant parties.

China is North Korea's closest and most influential ally economically.