Many can only speculate as to what happened to Okinawa’s beloved castle.

Designated as a UNESCO heritage site in 2000, Shuri Castle is a symbol of the many facets making up Okinawa’s complex history and culture. Serving as the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom in the 1300s and appropriated by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII, the castle grounds are a testament to both the rich, diverse history of the island, and are a de-facto memorial to the trauma incurred by the Okinawan population in the mid-20th century.

Due to the castle’s unique status, the burning of Shuri Castle in the autumn of 2019 invoked deep sorrow within locals. However, to the disappointment of those seeking an answer as to what may have caused the flames that razed down the main hall and two adjacent buildings, the Okinawan prefectural police have not only closed the investigation of the tragedy, but also concluded the investigation with no leads.

▼ Visitors the morning after were met with closed doors and the glimpse of a charred roof as police investigation began.

After three months of rigorous investigation, the Okinawan prefectural police reported that no evidence could be found in regard to the cause of the fire that devastated Shuri Castle and its vicinity.  Local police initially ruled out arson, and the prefectural police confirmed that there were no possible perpetrators after carrying out a thorough examination on footage acquired from security cameras.

Local firefighters who responded to the scene have also conjectured that a short-circuited wire near the main hall’s northeastern side may have been the cause of the fire, but despite gathering what remained of the wiring at the site of the tragedy, prefectural police decided to close the case as it was “difficult to find a specific cause given the extensive damage done by the fire.”

Understandably, the investigation’s closure and its non-decisive results provoked reactions ranging from disbelief to outrage:

“They’re going to rebuild it despite not knowing what caused the fire? Isn’t that really risky?”

“Someone needs to resign.”

“The people investigating this should be investigated themselves.”

“Isn’t it just going to burn down again if there are no proper countermeasures in place?”

“Didn’t they originally say that there was a short-circuit that might have caused the fire?”

This is the fifth time Shuri Castle will be rebuilt, as the castle grounds have been damaged before in the years 1453, 1660, 1709, and in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa.

While the governor of Okinawa has ambitious plans to rebuild Shuri Castle by 2022—the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s transfer from U.S. occupation to the Japanese government—we can only hope that in the process of the castle’s re-construction more fire prevention measures are put in place to protect this cultural site treasured by many domestically and abroad.

Source: Okinawa Times via Hachima Kiko
Top Image: Wikimedia Commons/663highland 
Insert Image: Wikimedia Commons/Kugel~commonswiki
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