Blaze broke out during castle festival period. 

Three important buildings at Okinawa’s Shuri Castle were totally destroyed by fire this morning, after a blaze took hold of the wooden structures in the midst of an annual festival.

Security guards on site were first alerted to the blaze by a fire alarm at approximately 2:30 a.m. Upon investigating the cause of the alarm, black smoke was discovered, prompting the guards to call the Naha City Fire Department at 2:40 a.m.

▼ Video of the blaze shortly after it started.

After arriving at the scene, the city fire department requested additional support from other fire departments around Naha City to help fight the fire, which was spreading rapidly. By 9:00 a.m., more than 20 fire trucks and 100 firefighters had subdued the blaze, which had spread to six buildings, completely destroying the “Seiden” (main shrine) and the neighbouring “Hokuden” and “Nanden” (north and south shrines) as well.

News reports broadcast images showing a side view of the main shrine as it was reduced to a skeleton before toppling to the ground.

▼ What the main shrine looked like before it was destroyed by fire.

According to police and fire officials, nearby residents were advised to evacuate, and as of late this morning, only one injury had been reported, after a firefighter showed signs of heatstroke and was transported to hospital.

▼ Aerial footage at 10:42 a.m. showed the extent of the damage to the main shrine.

Locals were devastated to see the treasured symbol of Okinawa razed to the ground, taking photos of the blaze and sharing images online.

“This can’t be true. Shuri Castle. Burning.”

Shuri Castle once served as the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which reigned over Okinawa for 450 years, between 1429 and 1879. While the castle buildings were destroyed in World War II, the castle had been classed as a National Treasure prior to the war, and after the buildings were restored in 1992, castle relics and other original features were protected when the castle area was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

The site is considered a sacred place for locals, as it preserves their rich history, culture, and architecture, which differs in style to most others in Japan, as the buildings display influences from the Chinese mainland.

▼ It’s hard to believe these beautiful buildings don’t exist anymore.

▼ Today’s fire wasn’t the first at Shuri Castle, however, with other fires having occurred in 1453, 1660, 1709 and 1945.

According to the fire department, today’s fire started from the left side of the main shrine, and then burned out to the north and south halls.

While officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze, the annual Shurijo Castle Festival event was being held on the site from 27 October to 3 November. Although festival staff members were scheduled to work until dawn this morning on festival-related business, reports say that the preparation work had finished by the time the fire started, with security staff being the only ones present on the grounds at the time.

▼ Lanterns were due to be lit up on the grounds from 2 November.

While Shuri Castle has stood the test of time over the years, today’s fire is particularly devastating as it comes shortly after restoration of the “Ouchibara” area (behind the main hall) was made public in February, completing a wider 30-year-long restoration project at the castle.

▼ Opening ceremony to mark the completion of the Ouchibara area earlier this year.

Locals interviewed by media were visibly upset today, with many saying the razing of Shuri Castle, a symbol of Okinawa’s history and pride, was a devastating loss to not only the community, but the many tourists and students who travel from around the country every year to learn about Okinawa’s culture on their annual school trips.

Our thoughts go out to the people of Okinawa today as they deal with this terrible blow, and while we wait to hear what plans they have for restoration work to bring the buildings back as a symbol of strength to the community, we’ll definitely be planning a visit to the area soon to help support the region.

As the home of Japan’s best pork and egg onigiri rice balls, amazing vistas, and fun adventures, now more than ever is the time to put Okinawa on your travel itinerary.

Sources: Jiji Press, Asahi Digital via Hachima Kikou
Featured image: Twitter/@rRBdKC22AAplz6k
Insert image: Wikipedia/663highland

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