Photo: Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Fire Devastates Historic Japanese Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

by Eben Diskin Nov 1, 2019

Shuri Castle, a popular UNESCO World Heritage site on the Japanese island of Okinawa, has been destroyed in a massive fire. Firefighters did their best to control the blaze on Thursday, but the castle’s main, north, and south buildings were destroyed. No injuries have been reported, though 30 residents living nearby have been temporarily evacuated.

According to Ryo Kochi, a spokesman for the Okinawa Prefectural Police, “The cause of the fire has not been determined yet, but a security company alarm went off at around 2:30 in the morning.”

The castle is a blend of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles and served as the capital of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which ruled Okinawa from 1429 to 1879. Although the original castle was destroyed during World War II, a reconstruction was finished in 1992, and the original castle ruins were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

The castle ruins, according to UNESCO, “are evidence for the social structure over much of that period, while the sacred sites provide mute testimony to the rare survival of an ancient form of religion into the modern age. The wide-ranging economic and cultural contacts of the Ryukyu Islands over that period gave rise to a unique culture.”

Mikiko Shiroma, the mayor of Okinawa’s main city of Naha, where the castle is located, told reporters, “I feel as if we have lost our symbol. It is a World Heritage site that represents Okinawa. More than anything, I am very worried about the fact that many Naha citizens live in neighboring areas, and I have received reports that the fire might be threatening or affecting residents of the areas.”

In the wake of Thursday’s blaze, the government has pledged to restore the castle to the best of its ability.

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