If you are lucky, as your plane touches down you may be able to catch a glimpse from your window of a large homemade sign declaring, in Japanese, “Against Narita Airport”. Omotenashi indeed.
The protest movement against Narita Airport is almost moribund for two obvious reasons: despite fierce opposition and mammoth delays and even fatalities, the airport was eventually finished and opened, and isn’t going anywhere; and the inevitable process of mortality is setting in and the original activists and farmers are slowly disappearing.
Instead, the remains of the protest movement, which is often referred to as the Sanrizuka movement after the area where many of the affected villages were located, continues on with a primary focus on stopping further expansion of the airport in the form of the long-anticipated third runway. Much of this manifests as petitions, various suits and trials, and regular rallies and marches. In particular, the dogged struggle to prevent the seizure of farmer Takao Shitō’s land has become the current lodestone of the movement.
The protest split in the early 1980s between factions willing to co-operate to some extent with the airport authority, and only the Kitahara faction remains fully committed to in partnership with its allies like Chūkaku-ha (Central Core Faction) and Dōrō-Chiba. Violence and small bombs were still happening until the 1990s.
The first control tower, which was famously occupied by activists in a bravado operation shortly before the airport was due to open, will be torn down in 2018. Moreover, the iconic “solidarity huts” (danketsu-goya) where activists and students lived along the disputed land, have been slowly but surely demolished after lengthy legal wrangles.
In the early hours of May 31st, the Yokobori Site Struggle Headquarters hut was removed following an order from Tokyo High Court. It was built by Hantai Dōmei, the league of farmers and activists opposed to Narita Airport, in 1982 and then became a base for the so-called Atsuta faction after the main split in the movement.
Activists and supporters from the Atsuta group, which is today led by farmer Hideo Yanagawa, mobilised nearby to protest, though the removal proceeded without incident and had finished by 3 a.m. The lot occupied by the roughly 50-square-meter hut will now be utilised by the airport as part of its operations. The final ruling confirming the hut removal came last July. The hut has not been in use since 1998 and the road leading to it was closed in 2007 and the hut boarded up. Images of the hut from last year indicate it was overgrown with vegetation, a strange block of no-man’s land in the middle of the airport.
It is the first such forced removal since February 2015 and brings the number of huts still located at various sites around the airport to six. While the days of virtual pitched battles between protestors and police are long gone, security remains high and riot police officers are often stationed along the ring road around the airport. People visiting the huts or similar areas may be followed by unmarked police vehicles.