Veteran Narita Airport protest leader Kōji Kitahara dies, aged 95

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Kōji Kitahara, the Narita Airport protest leader, has died, aged 95.

He passed away in the afternoon of August 9th in a hospital in Tomisato, Chiba. A farmer and landowner, Kitahara was the official head of the Sanrizuka-Shibayama United Opposition League Against the Construction of Narita Airport (also known as the Farmers League Against the [sic] Narita Airport, or more colloquially known in Japanese as Hantai Dōmei, or the Opposition League), which campaigns against the expansion of Japan’s premier airport.

After Issaku Tomura, who initially led the protest movement until his death in 1979, Kitahara was the most prominent figure in the Hantai Dōmei. Though increasingly frail in recent times, Kitahara’s fervour was boundless. I met Kitahara once and heard him at rallies on a few occasions. He remained a passionate public speaker despite his advancing age and he was still participating in rallies until last year.

koji kitahara-sanrizuka narita protest leader Kōji Kitahara at…

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Iconic Sanrizuka protest movement “solidarity hut” removed from Narita Airport

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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…

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Symbol of protest movement, Narita Airport control tower to be demolished

A control tower that has become a symbol of the protest movement against Narita Airport, in Tokyo, Japan, is to be demolished. The airport was opposed by local farmers, students and political movements from its announcement in 1966, and some of the protests resulted in violent clashes with police. It was recently announced that the former control tower will be demolished in 2018. Back in March 1978 it was raided by protesters who then occupied it and succeeded in delaying opening of the airport for three months. Resistance to the airport continues to this day, with some disputed strips of land blocking plans for a third runway.

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Narita Airport is currently swamped on a daily basis with international arrivals as Japan, especially Tokyo, enjoys unprecedented numbers of foreign tourists, a trend which is surely going to roll on until the 2020 Olympics. In spring 2015, the airport generated much fanfare when it opened a new low-cost carrier terminal fitted out with a funky “running track” interior design. How many of those arriving or departing from the now hip and bustling Narita are aware of the blood and tears that lie beneath its tarmac is debatable, though a documentary film released in 2014 has returned the remarkable story of the campaigning farmers and their various student and other allies to the public eye to a certain extent.

It is now fifty years since the government finalised its decision to build an international airport in the Sanrizuka area of Chiba. Take a walk around the airport and you…

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