Fire destroys World Heritage Okinawa castle

Faruq Bostaman in Roppongi, Tokyo

A huge blaze before dawn broke out at Shuri Castle, a United Nations Educational,Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage site in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, Japan yesterday morning.

Japan news reports said the Naha city fire department received an emergency call reporting a fire at the site at about 2.40am.

Around 30 firefighters and over 10 fire engines were dispatched.

The police said six buildings including the main hall, covering 4,200 square metres have burnt down. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

“The cause has not been determined. A tourist event was being held at the castle from Sunday and some work linked to the event continued until 1am yesterday, but it is not clear whether that was linked to the fire,” spokesman with the Okinawa Prefectural Police Ryo Kochi said.

No injuries have been reported, but nearby residents were told to evacuate. Naha Mayor Mikiko Shiroma told reporters that she is very shocked about the fire.

“It is extremely regrettable,” she said. The castle, built about 500 years ago by the Ryukyu Dynasty, was designated as Japan’s national treasure in 1933. It burnt to the ground during World War II.

The main hall was restored in 1992, and served as the venue of a banquet for leaders attending the Group of Eight summit.

Remnants of the original castle have also been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, alongside the ruins of other castles of the Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa.

Smoke and flames rise from burning Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa, southern Japan. PHOTO: AP