Photo/IllutrationPart of the coastal area of the Henoko district of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture is hemmed in by an embankment for land reclamation. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Okinawan voters have just delivered another forceful message to the central government on the issue of U.S. military bases in the southernmost prefecture.

Just like four years ago, Okinawans on Sept. 30 elected a governor who is opposed to the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago.

The outcome clearly demonstrates that the people of Okinawa do not see any need for a new U.S. military base in the prefecture.

The Abe administration repeatedly hammered home its position that Henoko is the only viable candidate site to relocate the functions of the Futenma facility, and plowed ahead with work to reclaim land for the air station.

Part of the coastal area off Henoko is now surrounded by an embankment.

This was the climate in which the gubernatorial election was held.

Atsushi Sakima, a candidate supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and smaller parties, vowed to adopt tactics of cooperation rather than confrontation with the Abe administration if he won the election.

The Abe administration continued to ignore assertions by the late governor, Takeshi Onaga, because of his vehement opposition to the base relocation.

While declaring that the Abe administration sided with the Okinawa people, top officials refused to meet with Onaga immediately after he assumed the post of Okinawa governor.

The administration also whittled down its funding for the promotion of Okinawan affairs.

A sore point for Okinawans was Tokyo's inability to curtail flights by U.S. military aircraft following a spate of accidents and emergency landings that left residents rattled.

It looks like little will change even after Denny Tamaki, designated by Onaga as his successor, assumes the governorship.

So why did Okinawans choose Tamaki, 58?

Sakima, 54, did not touch on the rights and wrongs of the Henoko relocation during his election campaign. Nor did he explain how he would deal with the issue if he was elected.

That strategy was the same as in the Nago mayoral election and the Niigata gubernatorial election.

Although backed by the Abe administration, Sakima kept his stance on the relocation issue deliberately vague. Many Okinawans were confused by his unclear position on such an important issue, and were distrustful.

In a nutshell, residents want a clear answer to the following question:

“Who forced Okinawa into a situation in which it has to choose one from two options, confrontation or cooperation, in dealing with the Abe administration?”

The Abe administration has no one to blame but itself for this state of affairs.

But it is also the responsibility of the Japanese people, especially those of us who live on the main islands and look at the situation from afar.

The land reclamation work off Henoko is proceeding at a steady clip.

Many people in Japan may be regarding the relocation to Henoko as “a past issue,” one that has been already settled. But it is one that is still bubbling and could be a problem that will continue for another century or more if the relocation goes ahead.

Both the Abe administration and we mainlanders need to think again about the meaning of the choice made by the Okinawan people.