Japan’s Shuri Castle fire likely started from main hall, at least 420 artworks destroyed

The 420 or so artworks, which were not stored in a fire-resistant repository, include artifacts from the Ryukyu Kingdom that had been displayed and stored in the Seiden main hall and other places in the castle.
The 420 or so artworks, which were not stored in a fire-resistant repository, include artifacts from the Ryukyu Kingdom that had been displayed and stored in the Seiden main hall and other places in the castle.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (XINHUA, THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The fire that destroyed Shuri Castle, a Unesco World Heritage site in Japan’s southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, is likely to have started from the main hall, police investigators said on Sunday (Nov 3).

The fire started shortly before 2.40am local time last Thursday at the historical castle in Naha, the prefectural capital of Okinawa. It engulfed seven wooden buildings, covering a total of more than 4,000 sq m, before it was extinguished around 1.30pm local time that day.

Police personnel and members of the fire department began an on-site investigation from Friday. The focus of their investigation is on the main hall where police suspect the blaze started to determine what caused the fire and how it spread.

Investigators told public broadcaster NHK on Sunday that one of the guards who responded to the security alarm witnessed heavy smoke billowing out of windows on the first floor of the main hall. Meanwhile, the investigators said they found a burned electrical panel on the floor and are looking into whether the device was the cause of the fire.

Meanwhile, it is highly likely at least 420 of about 1,500 artworks stored at the castle were destroyed by the fire.

The artworks, which were not stored in a fire-resistant repository, include artifacts from the Ryukyu Kingdom that had been displayed and stored in the Seiden main hall and other places in the castle, the Okinawa Churashima Foundation said during a press conference in Naha last Friday.

The foundation carries out the management and administration of Shuri Castle.

Of about 1,000 remaining items that were stored in a fire-resistant repository, there are three precious items such as a painting that is a prefecturally designated cultural property and a valuable craftwork. However, as of last Friday it had not been confirmed whether they were damaged by the fire or not, sources said.

It is also yet to be confirmed whether the stone walls, foundations and other structural remnants of the original Shuri Castle were damaged by fire or not. They have been preserved in the basement of the main hall. The site's registration as a Unesco World Heritage site is centred on the ruins of the original castle.

 

"Shuri Castle is the heart of the people of Okinawa Prefecture. We'll work with relevant ministries to promote early reconstruction of the castle," Cultural Affairs Commissioner Ryohei Miyata said last Friday.

The castle, listed as Japan’s 11th Unesco World Heritage site in December 2000, is a major tourist spot in the southern island prefecture.

As a symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom that ruled most of the Ryukyu Islands from the 15th to 19th century, with kings during the era unifying Okinawa, the castle was built some 500 years ago and designated a national treasure in 1933.

The castle was rebuilt after previously being burnt to the ground during World War II and its main hall underwent restoration in 1992.