Photo/Illutration The planned relocation site for a U.S. military base in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in December 2021 (Eiji Hori)

No snow falls on this island/But things like iron plates, machine parts and metal fragments do fall from the sky/From time to time, goes a poem by Okinawan poet Takekazu Shinjo.

The debris falling from the sky were parts of a U.S. military aircraft. Titled Kenbosho (Forgetfulness), the poem focuses on the reality of Okinawa, where people are plagued by grievous incidents that should not be allowed to occur but still do.

The poem continues, “When was that?/ Yesterday?/The day before yesterday?
U.S. soldiers sexually assaulting Okinawan women, military plane crashes and the destruction of the natural environment.

Each painful experience must have added a layer to Okinawa’s resistance against the construction of any new U.S. base.

Incumbent Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, a vocal opponent of the planned relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, was re-elected in the Sept. 11 gubernatorial election.

“The resolve of the people of Okinawa has not wavered,” declared Tamaki.

Indeed, this is the fourth consecutive time that the opposition votes outnumbered pro-relocation votes in recent gubernatorial elections and prefectural referendums.

“The people have spoken again,” is what I would like to say. However, the sorry reality is that I need to rephrase it to, “Even though the people have spoken again.”

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno effectively dismissed the polls as inconsequential, or even hinted at ignoring them altogether, when he stated, “The central government declines to comment on the outcome of the election because it is a verdict handed down by Okinawans.”

Some years ago, a Defense Ministry official told me: “After Okinawa undergoes a generational transition, the prefecture’s stance (on U.S. base-related issues) will change.”

In other words, Okinawa will eventually come around to accepting the bases alongside the growth in the number of Okinawans born after the war who never experienced the Battle of Okinawa or don’t remember hardships under a U.S. administration.

Tokyo is prepared to keep ruthlessly steamrolling the relocation project until Okinawa’s public opinion is in accord with Tokyo’s.

And we, who live outside Okinawa, are allowing this to go on.

But no accident, crime or the will of the Okinawan people should ever be forgotten.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 13

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.