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Investigators inspect Okinawan castle ruins for fire cause

14 Comments
By Mari Yamaguchi

Fire and police investigators inspected the burned-out ruins of Shuri Castle on Okinawa on Friday to determine the cause of the fire that nearly destroyed the symbol of the Japanese island's cultural heritage and history of struggle.

The fire Thursday burned down the three main halls and four nearby structures at the castle in Okinawa's prefectural capital of Naha. It took firefighters 11 hours to extinguish the blaze.

More than 130 investigators inspected the site Friday, according to local officials. They believe the blaze started inside the Seiden, the castle's centerpiece, around 2:30 a.m. when no one was around.

The late hour and the castle's design, with a spacious wooden main hall connected to other main buildings by hallways, might have allowed the fire to spread quickly.

Shuri Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site which dates from the 1429-1879 Ryukyu Kingdom era. The castle, burned down during World War II, was largely restored in 1992 for the 20th anniversary of Okinawa's reversion to Japan that ended the island's 27-year U.S. occupation. Historians and other experts had continued the restoration efforts until recently.

Many Okinawans expressed deep sorrow over the damage to the castle, which is a symbol of their cultural roots as well as the history of their struggle since the 1879 annexation by Japan.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki said his heart was broken, but expressed his determination to reconstruct the castle. Tamaki, who cut short a trip to South Korea and returned to Naha on Thursday, was in Tokyo on Friday meeting central government officials to seek their support.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed his sympathy to the Okinawans, adding that the government is willing to do everything it can to help the castle's reconstruction.

Investigators were focusing on the ruins of the Seiden hall. Video on NHK public television, taken from a helicopter, showed dozens of officials in uniforms and white helmets searching through charred debris, putting pieces into buckets for further examination.

The fate of hundreds of historic Ryukyu arts and crafts also was uncertain. Fire officials said they believe treasures displayed at the castle were mostly replicas of originals kept in safe storage elsewhere, but were trying to confirm their whereabouts.

Okinawa Churashima Foundation, which oversaw the castle, said it could not immediately confirm the status of a collection of historical artifacts kept at the castle. It said more than 1,500 items including calligraphy scrolls, lacquerware and paintings were stored there, and about 400 of them may have been in buildings that burned down, Kyodo News reported. It said most of the items were stored in heat-resistant warehouses at the castle and may have been saved, but their condition could not be examined immediately due to high temperatures.

The castle had hydrants, alarms, portable extinguishers and water outside the buildings. But there were no sprinklers installed inside the buildings, Naha fire department official Ryo Kotani said.

The fire was detected when a security guard heard an alarm, Kotani said. The blaze had engulfed the hall and spread to nearby structures when firefighters arrived about 20 minutes later.

© Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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I must admit, when I visited it many years ago, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't the real deal but still, this is a terrible shame. Looks beyond any kind of restoration now, sadly.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It's a tough job trying to keep a large timber buildings safe. Japan has done relatively well keeping as many intact as they have. Europe certainly has not been able to.

To preserve timber buikdings, they have to be dry, but dry buildings catch fire easily and spread quickly.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I drove by the site this morning and saw the burned shell of one of the buildings, and could smell the lingering smoke. Such a terrible tragedy for Okinawa, but thankfully no one was injured.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

It's also very hard to preserve a wooden building when bombs were dropped from above. (Remember Okinawa was a major battle ground during WW2)

-6 ( +0 / -6 )

(Remember Okinawa was a major battle ground during WW2)

REALLY? WOW, No one here every knew this! Thank you! (Sarcasm!) Dont need to be reminded of something damn near everyone here knows!

1 ( +4 / -3 )

How tragic, but confident it can be rebuilt again for the 4th time? 3 times prior to WW2 and once after. I agree with Yubaru's rebuttal @ seriously "remember Okinawa was a ....

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Since Shuri Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is there someone considering asking for donations thru GOFUND ME like Notre Dame did? I'm sure Shuri Castle is popular abroad.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

It will be rebuilt rather quickly, as a distraction from and compensation for the continued land reclamation and runway construction at Henoko. This is the thing that will allow both sides to save face and for the inevitable to be accepted.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It will be rebuilt rather quickly, as a distraction from and compensation for the continued land reclamation and runway construction at Henoko. This is the thing that will allow both sides to save face and for the inevitable to be accepted.

If you think 20 to 30 years is quick, then hats off to you! Local news has been talking about this all day, and estimates are that it will take at least that long!

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ince Shuri Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is there someone considering asking for donations thru GOFUND ME like Notre Dame did? I'm sure Shuri Castle is popular abroad.

I agree, yet I am personally torn between the national government assisting to pay for the rebuild, when there are so many PEOPLE in this country that need assistance from all the recent disasters.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Fireproof equipment seems the most essential items. Another point is to firefighters when they arrive the locality to get more access to extinguish the fire expanded when the gates were locked from inside(?).

UNESCO unfortunately gives the aprovement for the site world heritage but far away to offer rebuilding costs or anything clear to revive the tragedies once occurred. I feel confused to know what was that Shuri Castle repeatedly damaged by fire and see most of the main heritage spots to be destroyed by fire so easily ...

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UNESCO unfortunately gives the aprovement for the site world heritage but far away to offer rebuilding costs or anything clear to revive the tragedies once occurred.

Yes, they also have strict guidelines on what is considered "reconstruction" of historical sites.

In the past UNESCO's World Heritage Committee opposed reconstruction because this approach can falsify history and create fictional places that never existed in that form.  But in view of global destruction of cultural heritage on an unprecedented scale recently, UNESCO has modified its position and permitted reconstruction so long as the reconstruction is "based on sound detailed documentation, traditional forms and techniques and to no extent on conjecture."

In reconstructing the Shuri Castle, architects and craftsmen were very careful and painstakingly faithful to the original architecture, using original-type material (or as close as possible), and using construction technique consistent with the original construction methods.

To rebuild Shuri castle incorporating internal fire suppression apparatus, safety devices and modern fireproof material, etc., would involve extensive architectural modification and redesign and would invalidate the reconstruction as a "authentic historical building" as UNESCO would define.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

To rebuild Shuri castle incorporating internal fire suppression apparatus, safety devices and modern fireproof material, etc., would involve extensive architectural modification and redesign and would invalidate the reconstruction as a "authentic historical building" as UNESCO would define.

So how does that explain that Himeji Castle, which is another World Heritage Site, has a sprinkler system, other suppression systems, cameras, fire alarms?

There are other castles too?

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I agree, yet I am personally torn between the national government assisting to pay for the rebuild, when there are so many PEOPLE in this country that need assistance from all the recent disasters.

Have you missed my point? I said:

Since Shuri Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site, is there someone considering asking for donations thru GOFUND ME like Notre Dame did? I'm sure Shuri Castle is popular abroad.

Go Fund Me is not a government entity nor a local site. GoFundMe is an American for-profit crowdfunding platform that allows people to raise money for events ranging from life events such as celebrations and graduations to challenging circumstances like accidents and illnesses.[3][4] From 2010 to 2017, over $5 billion was raised on the platform for over two million individual campaigns and 50 million donors.[5] For personal campaigns in the US, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, GoFundMe is a free platform.[6] The company is based in Redwood City, California, with offices in San Diego and Dublin, and with operations in France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.[1]

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