As fascinating as these human-made flying birds are, living amongst constant deafening sounds of airplanes landing and taking off round the clock is not for the weak-hearted. However, for one hardy farmer in Japan, there is no other place he would rather live at.
This is the story of the resilience of a Japanese organic farmer, Takao Shito, and his family. They refused to give up their farm for the expansion of the one of the busiest and the second largest airport in Japan, Narita International Airport. Shito’s farm is only accessible through tunnels around the airport.
Shito’s family has been farming vegetables on this area of land located in the outskirts of Tokyo for three generations, long before the construction of the Narita International Airport in the 1970s.
The battle began with Takao Shito’s father, Toichi, being on the frontline of the resistance against authorities. After the death of his father, Shito continued his struggle. Over the last couple of decades, he and a handful of other farmers local to the area have vehemently opposed the government’s plans for expansion of the airport. The former village where the airport was built was home to nearly 30 families, but now only Shito’s family farm remains as one of the original inhabitants of the area.
For Shito, farming is a way of life and like any hard-working farmer giving up his ancestral farm would be synonymous with turning his back on his life. Also, as an organic farmer, it may not be the most favorable for him to relocate to a new and untested lot and start everything afresh.
Of course, authorities have tried all sure-shot methods of making him yield to their demands, including offering substantial cash settlements. State authorities succeeded in budging other farmers with compensation offers; however, this matter is not about money for Shito. “I got offered a cash settlement on the condition if I leave my farm,” he told BBC. “They offered 180 million yen (1.6 million USD). That’s 150 years’ worth of a farmer’s wages. I’m not interested in money. I want to continue farming. I never considered leaving.”
Even at present, he is involved in multiple legal battles with the authorities, but Shito remains undeterred. His struggle has made him a symbol of civil rights and has won him hundreds of social and civil rights activists and supporters who back his stance.
Shito relies on Japan’s Agricultural Land Act, which provides substantial legal protection to farmers. In a hearing at Chiba District Court in 2018, a disapproving ruling against Shito’s right to keep his land was pronounced, which led to a loud and intense protest by activists within the courtroom. However, another court ruled in his favor the very next day, temporarily putting a stop to execution of Shito’s land until further proceedings.
Despite his longstanding and tiring feud with Narita, Shito is willing to happily coexist with the airport as long as he is allowed to continue to tend to his farm without obstructions. He hopes for the authorities to realize his rights as an individual. He still has some 400 customers in and around Tokyo and intends to continue working hard for his produce.