By MARI YAMAGUCHI
TOKYO (AP) — Fire and police investigators were inspecting the burned-out ruins of Shuri Castle on Okinawa 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 on Oct. 31 burned down the three main halls and four nearby structures at the castle in Okinawa’s prefectural capital of Naha. Investigators believe it started inside the Seiden, the castle’s centerpiece, around 2:30 a.m. when nobody 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, which came two decades after mainland Japan.
Many Okinawans expressed deep sorrow and devastation by the near-loss of Shuri Castle, which is a symbol of their cultural roots as well as history of their struggle since the 1879 annexation by Japan. Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki expressed his determination to reconstruct the castle.
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.
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 at the gate closest to the main structures rushed to Seiden in response to an alarm, Kotani said.
Treasures displayed at the castle are replicas of originals safely stored elsewhere in the city, fire officials said.