*information as of October 31st, 2019, 3 pm Japan time
On October 31st, 2019, Japan woke up to some heartbreaking news – Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Japan’s designated national treasures has burnt almost to the ground during the night. The castle had recently completed renovations and was preparing to host a local festival.
— FKD (@dhmgiZcy2BHoSLE) October 31, 2019
NHK World reports that the first signs of fire were around 2:40 am Japan time, after which the fire department in Naha dispatched 30 fire trucks.
No human casualties or injuries have been reported yet, but one of the firefighters has suffered dehydration and had to be taken to a hospital.
The fire is said to have started in the main hall and spread to several other buildings. It burned for approximately 11 hours and the first reports say that more than 4 000 square meters of the Shuri Castle complex have been damaged.
Although the cause of the fire is still unknown, there are speculations it might be related to ongoing festival preparations and the hanging of festive lanterns.
Social media is flooded with images and posts of people mourning the loss of this historical and spiritual site. Many of them are sharing photos of the rare 2000 yen bill on which the Shureimon gate of the Shuri Castle is pictured.
— やっちゃん (@ytndesu) October 31, 2019
Naha Mayor Mikiko Shiroma expressed shock and vowed to do all within the city’s power to deal with the aftermath of the devastating fire. The Japanese government has also vowed to rebuild Shuri Castle, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressing sympathy to the Okinawan people for losing such a significant heritage site. The Shuri Castle has been part of Okinawan culture long before the islands were part of Japan as we know it today. Okinawa was annexed to Japan in 1879.
Shuri Castle, built around 500 years ago, is an important cultural landmark from the Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa. The castle has burned before, during the World War 2, but it was restored in 1992, becoming one of Okinawa’s major tourist sites. The restoration was so successful and detailed, that it earned Shuri Castle a UNESCO World Heritage site recognition in 2000. The castle complex is the pride of Okinawan people, reminder of their Ryukyu Kingdom ancestry and a symbol of endurance and battle spirit shown during World War 2.
Here is a rare photo of the Shuri Castle’d destruction in World War 2, with the person who shared it hopefully saying: “We reconstructed from this, we can do it again.”
— ミステリオ (@239szd5wxtx15Qb) October 31, 2019
Not everyone is quick to move to the final stage of grief that is acceptance, as the remnants of the Shuri Castle are still smoldering at the writing of this article (October 31st, 2019, 3 pm, Japan time). People are still in shock and morning, and the damage is immeasurable.