Japan removes relics from 1970s anti-Narita airport riots

Demolition work begins on two huts built on airport ground in 1970s anti-government clashes

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 November, 2012, 5:09am


Work crews have begun demolishing two huts built in 1971 on land earmarked for Narita Airport, relics of a radical protest against the building of Japan's main international gateway.

The structures are a legacy of bloody protests that left police officers dead as homemade bombs were tossed by leftist activists and farmers who said they were the victims of a land grab in rapidly modernising Japan.

Dozens of huts were built in a bid to halt the construction of the airport in a rural spot about 50 kilometres outside Tokyo. Some of the huts remained as the airport was built around them, leaving one of the taxiways bent.

The demolition of the two huts was approved by the Tokyo High Court in April after it ruled in favour of a landowner who asked for the return of a family plot.

"We will start the court enforcement of vacation of the land," an official from Chiba District Court announced at the site yesterday as some 30 grey-haired protesters attempted to stop the work crews.

Around 100 police officers moved the protesters along, and there were no reports of injuries or major trouble at the scene, according to the Chiba prefecture police.

"We will not let it happen," a protester said through a loudhailer as fellow activists held banners declaring: "We will not allow the destruction" of the buildings.

At the height of Japanese radicalism in the 1970s, thousands of extreme leftists congregated at dozens of similar huts in and around the area in a bid to hinder the building of the airport.

Japan was in the middle of a decades-long period of blistering economic growth as the largely rural country that emerged from the defeat of the second world war rose to become the globe's second largest economy.

In 1966, after Haneda Airport in Tokyo Bay reached its capacity, the government decided to build another airport outside the capital.

As the authorities began expropriating farming lots, many smallholders physically fought back, and were later joined by leftist students and activists staging violent protests.

There were regular clashes between riot police and the thousands of protesters gathered at the site. The use of homemade explosives in the clashes resulted in the deaths of at least three police officers and one activist.

Hundreds of farmers and protesters were arrested and the airport became a rallying point for anti-government movements throughout the country at a time when many Japanese felt increasingly disenfranchised by the rapid pace of change.

But the movement eventually lost its momentum after the height of violence in the 1970s.

Eight other huts remain on land allocated for the airport or around it, according to Kyodo News. One of them has forced a taxiway to be bent to avoid it.