A four-day festival begins at Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Oct. 31 as the castle marks the first anniversary of a massive fire that destroyed its six wooden buildings during the same festival last year. | KYODO

It has been more than a year since Shuri Castle caught fire, on Oct. 31, 2019, and burned down.

On Oct. 30, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who oversees operations at the site, reaffirmed his determination to restore the castle. The central government, which owns the facility, aims to have the main structure rebuilt by 2026.

But, through the year since the blaze, a large number of problems have surfaced, such as securing the wood needed to rebuild, ownership of Shuri Castle and revision of a city revitalization plan that includes the area around the site.

Here’s a review of the current situation.

Wood procurement

The central government has approved a road map that would see reconstruction of Shuri Castle’s main building completed by 2026.

At present, it is formulating a basic plan for the reconstruction of the main building after clearing up the rubble.

In the next fiscal year, the government plans to draw up blueprints while securing the wood necessary to rebuild the main building and drying it before use. After that, authorities also plan to procure roof tiles, too.

The prefecture, meanwhile, is helping the central government to secure the wood. It has set up the Shuri Castle Reconstruction Fund to collect donations, part of which will be used to purchase 175 logs for use as the main pillars of the main castle building.

However, they have yet to calculate how much it will cost or determine where the logs can be purchased.

Regarding the type of wood that will be used, the central government’s committee of technical experts has decided to use home-grown Japanese cypress, including from trees grown in the prefecture.

They have started looking for Japanese cypress from sources in the village of Kunigami, on the northern part of the main island, as well as in Miyakojima city and on the Yaeyama Islands in southwest Okinawa. In addition to cypress, other traditional Ryukyu woods are also under consideration for use.

For the main building, wood will be used for the pillars and beams as well as boards for interior and exterior walls and ceilings. Once the wood is procured using money from the fund, the prefecture will donate it to the central government.

The central government and Okinawa will both make sure that surveys needed as part of research to select wood sources cause the minimum possible harm to the environment. But at the moment, it is not clear whether it will be possible to secure the amount of wood envisioned for the project in within the allotted time frame.

Amid heightened environmental awareness, concerns have also been raised that cutting the trees for wood could cause deforestation.

In next year’s budget request, the Cabinet Office has allocated ¥4.1 billion for urban greenery-related projects, which will include the reconstruction of Shuri Castle.

Property rights

After the fire, there were calls from the public for Shuri Castle’s property rights to be transferred from the central government to the prefecture. But Gov. Tamaki has said he was not thinking of discussing this with Tokyo.

At a meeting of a prefectural assembly committee in December 2019, Kunisada Uehara, director of the prefecture’s national civil engineering department, expressed reluctance toward the idea, saying there had been no precedent for a prefecture to acquire a national park like Shuri Castle.

Immediately after the fire, then Okinawa minister Seiichi Eto emphasized that the central government, which owns the property, would be responsible for restoring the castle.

Yoshinori Shimabukuro, the prefecture’s director for policy coordination, also indicated that Tokyo had the primary role in restoring the castle.

Insurance shortfall

The cost of the Shuri Castle fire — which destroyed nine facilities, including the main building that burnt to ashes — has been appraised at ¥10.03 billion, but the insurance that was in place for the castle will only cover ¥7 billion.

It also takes time to confirm the damage, including damage to works that used traditional crafts as well as partially burnt buildings, according to the Okinawa Churashima Foundation, which the prefecture entrusts to operate the castle.

When and how much compensation the insurance company will pay is still undecided.

The central government will receive compensation for the buildings, and the foundation will receive compensation for examples of traditional crafts damaged by the fire.

Prior to the fire, the prefecture had been paying the central government a ¥230 million annual usage fee for Shuri Castle, as stipulated by law. Okinawa Prefecture will be exempt from those payments until the castle is rebuilt and reopened to the public.

For the current fiscal year, the prefecture will pay about ¥37 million for usage fees after reopening the castle site for visitors on June 12.


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