Living in a huge airport isn’t easy, the sound of planes taking off and landing alone is deafening, but one for stubborn Japanese farmer it’s the only place worth living in.
Takao Shito’s family has been growing vegetable on the same farm for over 100 years. His grandfather was a farmer, his father as well, and now he has taken on the same mantle, only things are a bit different for him than they were for his ancestors. Where before the Shito farm was part of a village of around 30 families surrounded by open fields, today it stands alone in the middle of Narita Airport, Japan’s second largest airport. Jets fly over his head 24 hours a day, and his only way to and from the farm is through underground tunnels. Most people would be dying to move away, but not Takao Shito. He has been fighting to keep his farm for over two decades and even refused an offer of over $1.7 million for his land.
“These are pieces of land farmed by three generations for nearly a century, by my grandfather, my father and myself. I want to continue living here and farm,” Shito told AFP, a couple of years ago.
Takao’s father, Toichi, was one of the most fervent of a handful of farmers who had been hindering Government’s plans to expand Narita Airport since the 1970’s. Most of the other farmers in the area had been convinced to sell their lands by financial incentives, but Toichi Shito wouldn’t budge for all the money in the world. His conviction marked Takao as a child, and when the old farmer passed away at the age of 84, he quit his job in the restaurant business and returned to the family farm to continue the fight.
Takao Shito has constantly been involved in legal battles to stop authorities from forcefully drive him off the land that his father has been farming for over 100 years ever since he returned home. It’s tiring, as is the farming itself, but he has no intention of backing down. His struggle has become a symbol of civil rights, and hundreds of volunteers and activists have rallied to support him over the years.
“I got offered a cash settlement on the condition I leave my farm,” Takao told the BBC. “They offered 180 million yen ($1,687,320). 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.”
Narita Airport is Tokyo’s main international gateway and handles around 40 million passengers and 250,000 flights a year. Its second runway was supposed to pass through Takao Shito’s land, but because of the legal problems, it now basically encircles it. The airport has been buying up land from other less stubborn farmers, but Shito remains a thorn in its side.
According to an article by the Answer Coalition, the Chiba Local Court pronounced an unjust decision which allows compulsory execution of Takao’s lands on December 20, 2018, but the very next day, he won another court decision which ordered a temporary stop to the process of compulsory execution until the trial in the Tokyo Higher Court began, the following year.
Takao Shito is still tending to his organic farm in the middle of Narita Airport, and selling fresh produce to about 400 customers. The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t affected him negatively, if anything, it made living in one of the largest airports in the world easier. The drop in air traffic has made the air cleaner and his home quiter.