Imagine waking up one morning only to be told that the farmland you are living and working on would be expropriated.

Some nightmares seem to never disappear. Back in the ‘60s the government must have thought it was a good idea to choose the middle of nowhere in Chiba for the site of the New Tokyo International Airport (aka Narita). Faced immediately with strong resistance from the local farming community, the project got off to a bad start even before the first slab of concrete materialized. When it finally opened in 1978, eight years late, it didn’t even have a train station. For the next twelve years travelers had to change onto a bus for the final journey to the terminal — a short but scary ride that took them through a maze of high walls, barb-wire fences and gates manned by riot police with more armor than your average samurai. Quite a way to enter and leave Japan! In December 1990 they finally managed to complete the underground tracks linking the terminal to the rail network.

Today a total of 45,000 people work for the airport, which provides ¥10 billion in tax revenue and 40% of the total budget of the Narita municipality. A second terminal has since been added and a second runway is planned. But let’s look at the sequence of events in more detail.

When selection of the site near Sanrizuka in Narita City and the northern part of Shibayama Township was announced on July 4, 1966, it came out of the blue. In choosing this site for the New Tokyo International Airport, the government had failed to consult with local residents about the project. Until then, the primary candidate for the airport had been neighboring Tomisato Village, but farmers there learned about the project and promptly organized to oppose it, forcing the government to revise its plans and adopt a less honest approach.

Afraid of another rebuff, the government purposely avoided prior consultation and without any warning announced the selection of the Narita-Shibayama site following a cabinet meeting. No attempt whatsoever was made to obtain the consent of local residents beforehand, although, after the decision had been made, a public hearing on the airport was held in Chiba City. At that time, people were allowed to air their views and let off steam, but the hearing was primarily for public consumption as the government refused point blank to reconsider its decision.

To make their voices heard, the effected people formed the “League of Sanrizuka and Shibayama Farmers Against Narita Airport,” drawing up the front line for the battle that was to follow. In October 1967, the government mobilized riot police to forcibly restrain local farmers angered by a survey of the outer site. In 1971, the government and the farmers clashed violently on two occasions as authorities forcibly confiscated land inside the site designated for Phase I construction. In September that year, during the second round of expropriations, an elderly woman, Koizumi Yone, was evicted from her home. Her house, the land around it and a rice field were confiscated. To resist, the farmers (their ranks swelled with supporters from the student movement) built underground strongholds on their land, chained themselves to trees and defended themselves with their bare hands. Images of this fighting flashed around the world, and Sanrizuka earned the unflattering sobriquet of “Japan’s Vietnam.” During stage-two expropriations, three riot police were killed in the fighting, and one of the farmer’s friends took his own life in despair. Tragically, the loss of life on both sides did not stop there.

The government originally set completion of the first 4000-meter runway for April 1971. Because of widespread local protests and problems building a fuel pipeline, however, Narita's Phase I was postponed numerous times. In March 1978, just days before the airport was scheduled to open, supporters of the farmers occupied the control tower, causing damage that resulted in a two-month delay. A single runway was finally inaugurated on May 20, 1978.

In the early 1990s, a group of opposition farmers began seeking a peaceful solution to the airport problem. From November 1991 to May 1993, they sat down with local and national government officials as well as airport representatives in an attempt to analyze the underlying causes of the airport dispute and find an alternative to physical confrontation. The “Symposium on the Narita Airport Problem” met 15 times. When it ended, farmers and officials convened the “Narita Round Table Talks,” which were held 12 times between September 1993 and October 1994. Through these face-to-face discussions both sides agreed to renounce the use of force and negotiate in good faith.

In July 1991, the Narita Airport Corporation began building a second runway inside Toho Hamlet. However, protests forced the Corporation to cease work. Then, in December 1996, the Transport Ministry announced it would complete the project by the year 2000, a date it subsequently revised to March 2001. In May 1999, ignoring the wishes of Toho residents, it suddenly announced it would finish the second runway by June 2002. This is the same attitude the authorities displayed over 33 years ago when they dropped their original bombshell. Once again, they failed to obtain the consent of local residents. Their current attitude seems to be: If you don’t sell up, we’ll build a runway right up to your front door. Having been bullied for over 33 years the residents of Toho Hamlet are unlikely to give in to this latest round of intimidation.

The second runway will effect eight families, or a total of 36 people, that live and work in the Toho hamlet. In addition, 14 employees commute to the hamlet every day from nearby villages. Five dogs and eight cats complete the community, not to forget 6,000 hens and 40 ducks. Toho Hamlet has a vegetable packing center, chicken farms, a pickle factory, an organic compost center, a lodging house, a hamlet shrine, and a cemetery. An old unpaved road runs through the hamlet, built by the farmers who first homesteaded the land here after World War II.

Due to resistance from the inhabitants of Toho Hamlet and their refusal to sell their land, the project to build a second Narita runway has had to be repeatedly revised. Originally aiming for a 2,500-meter runway with completion by March 2001, the airport will now have to make do with a runway shortened to 2,180 meters with the whole site shifted by some 800 meters. But worse than this, if the runway is actually built, its southern end will abut on three homes, three chicken farms, the vegetable packing center, the pickle factory, the lodging house, and some fields.

Airplanes continually taking off and landing at very low altitudes directly above the homes and farms — with the accompanying noise, high-intensity vibrations, jet exhaust fumes, and the constant threat of falling debris — will make life in the hamlet intolerable. Even before the first airplane takes off, however, the building of access roads and related prefectural projects will bring the disrupting influence of heavy construction right to the eaves of the hamlet’s houses and the edge of their fields. In short, the new runway is nothing less than a threat to the continued existence of the Toho community.

People may ask why the farmers don’t just sell their land and move to a different location. Or perhaps, why the farmers can’t just step aside in the interests of smooth travel for the legions of passengers who use Narita yearly. To find out about the deeply entrenched views of the farmers, Tokyo Journal sat down with Noriko Ishii, one of 10 female supporters who married into the Toho community some 25 years ago. Ms. Ishii was a student when the fight against the airport was at its height. In the ‘70s a lot of students sympathized with the plight of the farmers and showed their support by helping to protect the land.



Ms. Ishi who married into the Tokyo farming community

tj: Ms. Ishii, would you accept a reasonable payment from the government to abandon the land?

Noriko Ishii: To answer this, you need to understand farming and what it means to be a member of a farm community. Take the soil for instance. Farm land is different from a piece of commercial land. Each plot of farm land has its history and its unique micro-ecology; it is a combination of complex natural and human factors that have interacted over time. The degree of exposure to the sun, soil quality, the direction and strength of prevailing winds, the depth of the water table, the extent of frost mean that no two plots of farm land are the same. Even on the same parcel, some areas are marshy, others well-drained. An old farmer who lived in the hamlet used to say, “It takes about 10 years before you really get a feel for the land.” It takes many years of being in constant contact with a piece of farm land, and observing it, before one knows which crops are best suited to it, which crops should be rotated on it and which should not. Each parcel has its own unique requirements, and it takes time, effort and patience to recognize what those are.

Readers wishing to show their support for the farmers of Toho Hamlet may do so by joining their list of satisfied customers for organic vegetables.

Once registered with the One-Pack Group, products will be delivered to your door once a week.

Call Ms. Ishi
at 0476-32-0327
for details.

tj: Are you using organic farming, and since when?

shii: In the early 1970s we began farming with organic methods. That was before organic foods were popular in Japan. Mixing chicken manure, seedcake, and rice bran with the soil, we made compost. Spreading the compost on our fields promoted the growth of microorganisms, worms and a multitude of earth-dwelling insects whose excrement further enriched the land, producing a particularly fertile organic soil. All of the fields now being threatened by the construction of the second runway are organic fields that we have gradually built up over many years.

tj: But wouldn’t it make you feel good to sacrifice your community life for the sake of the safe travel of millions of Japanese? Doesn’t the airport need a second runway to reduce congestion?

Ishii: In the eyes of the Toho farmers the airport as it stands now is very well equipped to handle heavy traffic such as during Golden Week and New Year’s holidays. There is no need for a second runway, especially not for such a short runway (2,180 m) that is only suitable for mid-sized planes, not for those commonly used for international flights.

tj: If all goes as planned according to the Airport Authority (Kuko Kodan), your community will be almost completely surrounded by up to 6-m high walls and will have to endure airplanes flying as low as 20 to 40 meters above your heads. Doesn’t that make you want to move?

Ishii: Of course, under these circumstances, the Kuko Kodan would love to get rid of us as soon as possible. How the noise and pollution will affect our health nobody can say. Noise levels will be up to 95 dB, with 80 flights per day after completion of the new runway.

Capture for map below:
Yellow – Owned by Toho farmers
Pink – Planned local road system
Green – Jet blast protection walls
Blue – Runways and taxiways

Staff Continued

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