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Okinawa: Fire-prevention measures in Shuri Castle balanced with tradition

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A 9-meter-long log is carried on a trailer toward Shuri Castle by about 140 people as part of a ceremony to commence reconstruction of the main hall on Nov. 3 in Naha. It comes from a tree grown in Kunigami, northern Okinawa, and will be used as a beam of the building.

NAHA — Shuri Castle, the spiritual center of the Okinawan people, is undergoing restoration work. However, the project faces challenges to balance the historical aspects of the wooden structure with the need to prevent the loss of a piece of history.

Shuri Castle has been repeatedly destroyed by fire since the days of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and the majesty of the castle was lost during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The castle buildings were reconstructed about 30 years ago, but these were destroyed by a fire that broke out in 2019.

To prevent further disasters, the current reconstruction will include various types of fire protection equipment.

A special surveillance camera will be installed to quickly detect abnormalities that may cause a fire, even at night. The new system will also alert the fire department and unlock the castle gate automatically to allow any fire to be tackled without delay.

A new type of sprinkler will also be installed, with pipes that are constantly filled with water so they can be activated quickly.

However, the restoration committee members insist that the architecture from the Ryukyu Kingdom period needs to be accurately reproduced, so are considering several aspects of the reconstruction. For example, the color of any equipment that is installed on ceilings or walls will be matched to the vermilion used in the main hall. Sprinkler pipes will be hidden in spaces between the roof and the ceiling.

Shuri Castle

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The main hall of Shuri Castle before it was destroyed by fire in 2019.

Shuri Castle is a royal palace that included the administrative headquarters of the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879). It used to be a cultural and artistic center hosting festivals and religious ceremonies. The main hall was designated as a national treasure before World War II, but was destroyed during the war. Restoration work began in 1989, and the castle opened to the public in 1992. In 2000, the ruins of the castle and some other areas were registered by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage site.