In a prefecture-wide referendum held Sunday, 72 percent of Okinawa's voters expressed their opposition to the national government's reclamation work off the coast of the Henoko area of Nago to build a replacement facility for the U.S. Marine Corp.'s Air Station Futenma. The number of "no" votes reached 434,273 — well over the 396,632 votes obtained when Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki was elected last September on a platform of halting the Henoko construction — against 114,933 "yes" votes in the first referendum to focus solely on the divisive issue. It is now the third time that Okinawa voters' opposition to the construction of a new U.S. military facility in the Henoko area — which the government insists is the "only solution" to eliminating the dangers posed by the Futenma base in the middle of the city of Ginowan — has been demonstrated, following Tamaki's election last year and that of his late predecessor, Takeshi Onaga, in 2014.

The outcome of Sunday's referendum does not legally bind the national government, which has effectively rebuffed Okinawan opposition to the Henoko project on the grounds that the state holds sole jurisdiction over matters of national security, including deployment of U.S. forces in Japan under the bilateral security alliance. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he takes Sunday's vote result seriously but reiterated that relocation of the Futenma functions to the Henoko site cannot wait any longer. The government, however, should think hard about the wisdom of building a new U.S. military facility over the strong opposition of the host prefecture and its people.

It was 1996 when the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on returning the Futenma site to Japan — on the condition that the base's functions would be relocated within Okinawa Prefecture. The accord was intended as part of the effort to reorganize and reduce the huge presence of U.S. military bases in Okinawa — in response to a flare-up of anti-U.S. base sentiments in the wake of the rape of a local schoolgirl by U.S. servicemen.