Japan Airport Opponents Clash With Riot Police

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Opponents of Narita Airport clash with prefectural riot police in Narita, Chiba Prefecture, on Wednesday evening.

NARITA, Chiba — Skirmishes broke out Wednesday evening as authorities began the forcible removal of structures set up to block the development of Narita Airport in Chiba Prefecture and the eviction of people effectively occupying the site.

Enforced by the Chiba District Court, this was the first compulsory action taken against the opposition to the airport in almost six years, following the removal of a hut at the development site in May 2017.

The skirmishes continued until dawn Thursday, and at least two people were arrested on suspicion of interfering with official duties. No injuries were confirmed, and most of the structures, which included a tower and signboards, were removed.

At around 8 p.m. Wednesday, as hundreds of riot police surrounded the plot of land in question, about 50 opposition members linked arms and slammed their bodies against the police’s shields. Several people also climbed on top of the tower and yelled into a microphone, “Riot police, go home!”

The 4,600-square-meter plot is located near runway B on the north side of the airport. It was acquired by the Narita International Airport Co. (NAA) in 2003, but the Kitahara faction of the Sanrizuka-Shibayama United Opposition League against Construction of the Narita Airport built a tower and other structures on the land, and opposition member Takao Shito, 72, grew vegetables and other crops there.

This forced a bend in the taxiway of runway B.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

When the removal of the tower, which had come to symbolize the opposition movement, started at around 4:20 a.m. Thursday, opponents violently resisted, striking the police’s shields. Authorities also set up steel barriers along the road bordering the site, and police escorted out opposition members who tried to remain.

In 2016, the Supreme Court rejected Shito’s appeal in a lawsuit filed by the NAA demanding that the land be vacated. In September last year, the Tokyo High Court upheld a lower court ruling and approved the NAA’s request that the Kitahara faction remove the structures.

The court also issued a declaration of conditional execution, which allows for the compulsory removal of the structures and the evacuation of the land even before the ruling is finalized.

Conflict over the construction of Narita Airport began in 1966, when the Cabinet decided to build the airport. Opponents temporarily occupied a control tower in 1978, two months before the airport opened.

Such extreme acts have not occurred for some time, but there is one more piece of land on the construction site owned by NAA where Shito continues to grow crops.