Shuri Castle lost to flames as shock felt across Japan

2019-11-01 China Daily Editor:Li Yan

Complex's wooden structures no match for inferno that raged for over 10 hours 

All the main structures of Japan's 600-year-old Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the nation's southern prefecture of Okinawa, were burned to the ground in a predawn fire on Thursday. The blaze lasted for more than 10 hours.

The fire started just before 2:20 am, in the castle's main hall, which is one of Okinawa's major tourist spots in the prefectural capital of Naha, according to witness reports, including a nearby security guard who rushed to the scene.

"It (the fire) started at the main temple and spread quickly to all the other main structures," an official of the Okinawa prefectural fire department told China Daily.

"However, the cause of the fire has not yet been determined," he said.

Television footage showed large orange flames engulfing the castle. Seven of its buildings were razed, including the main hall and the north and south halls.

The fire department said it sent more than 10 fire engines to the scene. With the castle's wooden structures, an area of more than 4,000 square meters at the site was damaged; the fire was put out about 11 hours after it started.

There were no reports of injuries, police and fire officials said, but about 30 nearby residents were temporarily evacuated.

Naha Mayor Mikiko Shiroma told a news conference that she was "extremely sorry" and shocked to hear the news.

"We have lost our symbol," Shiroma said.

"It is a World Heritage site that represents Okinawa. More than anything, I am very worried. ...Naha city will make our greatest possible efforts to do everything in our power to deal with the fire and its aftermath."

Built on a hill and surrounded by walls, the Shuri Castle served as the royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom and its administrative office. It is believed to have been in use since the 1400s.

The castle was largely destroyed in the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, but it was extensively restored and reopened as a national park in 1992.

In 2000, remnants of the original castle, together with the ruins of other castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom, were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

"I feel so sad that the castle has now gone after being restored," said Ritsuko Shiratori, a 70-year-old resident who witnessed the fire from the highest floor of a condominium building.

UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay expressed "deep emotion and sincere solidarity with the Japanese people".

"This is a loss for all humanity," she tweeted.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that "Shuri Castle is an extremely important symbol for Okinawa" and the government will do its best to reconstruct it.

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