Shuri Castle has been a symbol of Okinawa’s history, and most importantly, it’s ability to recover from dark times through the centuries. This past Halloween, in the wee hours of the morning, flames engulfed this UNESCO World Heritage site, destroying the inner wooden courtyards of this beautiful piece of Japanese history, including the Seiden, it’s most remarkable and recognizable structure which has been the centrepiece of most photographs taken of the castle through the decades.
We recognize it’s an extremely important symbol of Okinawa. I express my sympathy to residents of Okinawa Prefecture from the bottom of my heart. The incident is heartbreaking.
– Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga
A brief history
Shurijo has been the seat of power for the Ryukyu Kingdom since 1429. In 1609, the castle was seized by samurais led by Shimazu Iehisa, employed by the Satsuma domain. However, two years later, King Shō Nei was returned to the throne and the Ryukyu Kingdom became a vassal state of Satsuma. It lay largely neglected since then.
In 1879, the kingdom was annexed by Japan and was converted into a barracks for the Imperial Japanese Army. In 1925, it was designated as a national treasure.
During World War II, the castle and its city below were bombarded by American artillery during the Battle of Okinawa, setting the castle ablaze and reducing it to a shadow of its former self. Its destruction also revoked its status as a national treasure of Japan.
From 1950 to 1975, during the reconstruction process, the castle was used as a university campus, and in 2000, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Although just a brief history, the castle has in fact been destroyed and rebuilt several times over the last few centuries, which means there is always hope. Just as it had done before, Shurijo will rise again and regain its past glory as a part of Japanese heritage and culture.
What we can do now
My heart is broken, but I also feel strongly that we must reconstruct Shuri Castle, a symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom filled with our history and culture.
– Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki
Although previous efforts have taken 30 years to complete, there is no doubt that they will rebuild the castle once again.Various government organizations are working together to investigate the cause of the fire and to plan new ways to prevent such a tragedy from happening again in other shrines, temples, and castles.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that the government would do its utmost to help restore the castle after Thursday’s fire.