Fri, Jul 18, 2014 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: Japanese still battle land seizures at Narita airport

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff reporter

“We petitioned the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, but officials told us that they had no choice and asked us to tolerate it for the good of the public,” Kitahara said.

“Since my grandfather’s time, my family has been living here in Sanrizuka as farmers, growing agricultural products organically,” said Toichi Shito, a local farmer. “This is our home, we will not give it up.”

Shito said that in addition to families that have been living in Sanrizuka for centuries, there are many families of former soldiers or overseas Japanese who were settled in Sanrizuka by the government after World War II, and that it took them decades of effort and hard labor to improve the quality of the soil.

“How is it possible for them to just give up the land?” Shito asked.

At first, villagers’ protests were rather peaceful, but they turned violent when the government authorized forcible land expropriation and eviction of residents in 1969. The seizures did not happen until 1971, the year when the airport was supposed to have been completed under the original plan.

“Police and troops moved in, trying to tear down private homes and steel towers built by protesters — including local villagers, and thousands of university students and activists from across the country — leading to violent clashes,” said Koyama, who was among the student activists who joined the resistance movement in the 1970s.

Among a series of conflicts, the most severe occurred in September 1971 when 5,300 police officers clashed with about 5,000 protesters, leading to the arrest of 475 protesters, hundreds of injuries on both sides and the deaths of three officers.

Finally, the airport inauguration was set for 1978, but only one terminal and one runway had been completed at that time — and the inauguration was further postponed, since protesters occupied the control tower on the scheduled day of the inauguration on March 26 amid tightened security measures.

Following the bloodshed in the 1970s, the protests continued, but they were non-violent and still continue today — with the two private homes, a factory, shrine and farms remaining as enclaves within the airport, blocking it from being completed.

“Politicians have continued to try and convince me to give up by offering me government positions or large compensation, but I turned down all the offers,” Kitahara said.

“The government made a mistake. It has to apologize and to fundamentally change the way it makes decisions,” he said.

Koyama agreed, saying that it was a crime by the government and giving up would mean consenting to the government’s wrongdoing.

“This is why I’ve stayed in the movement for almost 40 years,” he said.

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