Okinawa: Young Okinawans Work on Shuri Castle Restoration

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Carpenter Shogo Uehara is seen working at Shurijo Castle in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture.

NAHA — Young craftspeople in Okinawa Prefecture are helping restore the main hall of Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, which was destroyed in a blaze four years ago.

Since wooden construction is relatively rare in Okinawa, young local carpenters in particular are viewing the project as a golden opportunity to learn from mainland craftspeople, including from woodworkers who specialize in temple, shrine and palace-related work.

Shogo Uehara, a 32-year-old local carpenter, was working at a lumber warehouse in Shurijo Castle Park, where the reconstruction of Shuri Castle is progressing, on Oct. 24.

The Japan News

“I want to do a job that I can be proud of so that the people of Okinawa will become enamored with the castle,” Uehara said.

After graduating from high school, Uehara gained experience as a wooden construction carpenter at a company in Chiba Prefecture before returning to Okinawa in 2019. Six months later, Shuri Castle was engulfed in flames. The disappearance of the Okinawan symbol disheartened Uehara, as he had many fond memories of his parents taking him to visit the castle.

Once the restoration project was announced, Uehara was desperate to get involved in the project. To that end, he joined Shajiken Co., a Fukui Prefecture-based construction company contracted to conduct the Shuri Castle restoration, and began working at the site in February.

Uehara has so far been responsible for making formboards in accordance with blueprints. Formboards serve as the foundation for future procedures, so a high degree of precision is required.

Uehara is also involved in crafting a full-size model of the main hall’s decorative roof, known as “karahafu,” which can be said to be the “face” of Shuri Castle. The model is used to check whether there are any problems with its waterproofness or structural integrity, so the making of the model is an important process.

“The pressure is great because even small discrepancies are not allowed,” he said.

Concrete buildings proliferate in Okinawa Prefecture due to the high frequency of typhoons, and there are not many wooden construction experts in the prefecture.

About 30 workers, including veteran carpenters specializing in temple, shrine and palace-work from outside the prefecture are working on the reconstruction project, providing Uehara with a great opportunity to learn advanced techniques.

“Maintenance work will be required following the restoration, and I want to make sure that the techniques we have learned will be passed on to the next generation,” Uehara said.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Carpenter Aya Goto carries out restoration work.

The restoration work is scheduled to be finished in autumn 2026.

Aya Goto, 21, from the village of Kita-Nakagusuku in the prefecture joined the project to assemble pillars and beams this autumn, becoming the first woman carpenter to get involved in the restoration.

Goto started working as a woodworker at her father’s design firm after graduating from high school. This spring, she decided to join the project, thinking that it would be a unique opportunity for her to learn about traditional architecture.

“The vermilion-colored main hall had a mysterious power that made me feel as if I’d wandered into another world,” Goto said. “I’m determined to work with pride and gratitude for being allowed to get involved in the project.”

Shajiken President Nobuyuki Yamamoto, 65, said, “I hope they’ll be among the people to support Okinawa’s traditional architecture 20 to 30 years from now.”

Early morning fire drill

NAHA — A pre-dawn fire drill was held at Shurijo Castle Park in Naha on Oct. 31, the fourth anniversary of the Shuri Castle fire in 2019. The Cabinet Office, the municipal fire department and other entities organized the drill.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Firefighters and others take part in a drill to prevent fire from spreading, at Shurijo Castle Park in Naha on Oct. 31.

About 250 people, including the firefighters, took part in the drill, which started at 5:30 a.m. on the premise that a fire had broken out in a temporary building for restoration work of the Shuri Castle main hall. As part of the exercise, participants carried out the procedures for reporting, extinguishing the fire and evacuation. Participants also learned how to use a system that would form a water curtain measuring 12 meters high and 20 meters wide to prevent fire from spreading.

Shuri Castle

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The main hall of Shuri Castle before it burned down

Shuri Castle served as a royal palace for the Ryukyu Kingdom (1429-1879). The main hall, once designated as a national treasure, was destroyed in a fire during the Battle of Okinawa during World War II, but was restored in 1992. In the 2019 fire, seven buildings, including the main, north and south halls were decimated. Restoration work on the main hall began on Nov. 3, 2022.