Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Japanese still battle land seizures at Narita airport

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

A plane lands at Narita International Airport over a farm and houses in an enclave of the former Sanrizuka village, which is now enclosed by the airport, on Jan. 15.

Photo: Loa Iok-sin, Taipei Times

While many families affected by the Taoyuan Aerotropolis project are fiercely resisting forced land seizures by the government, a group of people in Japan has been resisting expropriations for nearly 50 years and has blocked Narita International Airport — the largest airport in Japan — from being completed as initially planned.

With more than 200,000 flights landing and taking off, carrying more than 30 million passengers a year, Narita International Airport in Chiba Prefecture not far from Tokyo may seem to be just like any other busy airport at first sight, but travelers may notice something unusual, such as a large sign that says “down with Narita Airport” in both English and Japanese, as well as steel towers, some with protest banners hanging from them, right outside the airport fence.

“The airport is technically unfinished, though it has been in operation for decades,” said Eiichi Koyama, editor-in-chief of Weekly Sanrizuka and a member of the Farmers’ League Against Narita Airport, standing on one of the observation towers built by activists against land expropriation for Narita airport, right outside the airport fence. “The land expropriation is not done yet.”

According to the original construction plan, which was revealed in 1966, Narita International Airport was supposed to have two 4km runways, one 3.6km runway and two 2.5km runways, but only the 4km runway A had been completed when the airport was opened in 1978, which was a seven-year delay as the airport was originally scheduled to be inaugurated in 1971.

It was not until 2002 that the 2.2km runway B — which was also supposed to be 4km long — was completed. It was later expanded to 2.5km in 2009, but the construction of the rest of the runways has been postponed indefinitely.

Within and outside the airport premises, there are still two private homes, an agricultural product manufacturing plant, a Shinto shrine and farms belonging to local residents who are opposed to forced expropriation for the airport that started nearly half a century ago.

“The resistance to the land seizures began when the government first announced that a new airport would be built in Sanrizuka village in Narita,” 92-year-old Koji Kitahara, who has headed the activist league since the beginning, told the Taipei Times. “The announcement came as a surprise, because we were never consulted in advance and I believe that anyone, anywhere, would rise up against it.”

In fact, it was the village of Tomisato — about 5km away — that was first selected for the airport, but the site was later relocated to Sanrizuka due to strong opposition.

“The Cabinet believed there would be less opposition because more than half of the land in Sanrizuka belongs to the Chiba Prefecture Government and the imperial family,” Kitahara said. “So, before we were consulted or reacted, the decision to move the project to Sanrizuka was finalized.”

He added that it took the government only two weeks between the first announcement and the final decision.

“We put a lot of hope in the Emperor, we petitioned him asking him not to agree to give up Imperial lands, but the emperor let us down,” Kitahara said. “To our disappointment, he quickly agreed to give up imperial estates for airport construction.”

Despite the disappointment, Kitahara and other Sanrizuka villagers — 325 families and more than 1,000 residents — continued to petition officials at the local and central level, but all efforts were in vain.

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