Fire engulfs World Heritage Japanese castle in Okinawa

Shuri Castle is engulfed in flames in Naha, Okinawa prefecture, southern Japan on early October 31, 2019. — AFP pic
Shuri Castle is engulfed in flames in Naha, Okinawa prefecture, southern Japan on early October 31, 2019. — AFP pic

TOKYO, Oct 31 — A fire ripped through a historic Japanese castle on the southern island of Okinawa early this morning, spreading throughout the World Heritage site’s complex, local authorities said.

Shuri Castle is a key part of a complex dating back to the Ryukyu Kingdom, and is believed to have been in use from around the 1400s.

The blaze started before 3.00am this morning, with the cause unknown as yet.

“The cause of the fire has not been determined yet but a security company alarm went off at around 2:30 in the morning,” Ryo Kochi, a spokesman with the Okinawa prefectural police told AFP.

“It started at the main temple and looks to be spreading fast to all the main structures... Firefighters are still battling the fire,” he added.

Television footage showed large orange flames engulfing the castle. Local media said there were no initial reports of injuries.

Kochi said a tourist event was being held at the castle from the 27th, and some work linked to the event continued until 1:00 am but it is not clear whether that was linked to the fire.

Nearly a dozen fire engines were dispatched to the scene, Kyodo news agency said, with unconfirmed reports suggesting other buildings in the complex may also have caught fire.

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

Thanks to the faithful nature of the reconstruction, it was registered along with the surrounding complex and other Ryukyu sites in the region as a World Heritage Site in 2000.

“Five hundred years of Ryukyuan history (12th-17th century) are represented by this group of sites and monuments,” the entry on the Unesco website explains.

“The ruins of the castles, on imposing elevated sites, 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 reconstructed main hall of the Shuri castle in particular is praised as “a great monument symbolising the pride of the Ryukyu people.” — AFP

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