A fire at Okinawa’s iconic Shuri Castle has razed the main structures of the UNESCO World Heritage site to the ground.
On a hill overlooking Naha, the largest city in Japan’s most southerly prefecture, Shuri Castle has been undergoing extensive renovation work in recent years to restore the site to its former glory.
The landmark is famous for its undulating outer defensive walls and colourful main buildings, which fused Japanese, Chinese and indigenous Okinawan designs.
The blaze appears to have broken out in the main hall of the structure, with local emergency services receiving a call at 2.40 am to report smoke, Kyodo News reported.
Twenty fire engines were dispatched to the scene, but images broadcast on Japanese television indicate they were unable to bring the blaze under control before it destroyed virtually the entire main section of the castle.
Aerial footage taken after sunrise has shown firefighters damping down the embers in buildings on three sides of the central courtyard, with the main hall completely destroyed and the remaining buildings badly damaged.
The castle is not inhabited and there have been no reports of any injuries. No announcement has been made on the cause of the fire.
Shuri Castle was added in 2000 to the UNESCO World Heritage list, along with a number of other sites related to the Kingdom of Ryukyu, the former name of Okinawa when it was an independent state.
Since the 12th century, fortified buildings on the site had made Shuri the centre of politics, diplomacy and culture in the kingdom, which was formally annexed by Japan in 1879.
Destroyed and rebuilt through the following centuries by war and natural disaster, the castle that stood on the site in 1933 was designated as a national treasure.
That structure was destroyed by fire in the fierce fighting for Okinawa in the closing stages of the Second World War. Much of the site had since been reconstructed and the castle was reopened in 1992, although archeological work and rebuilding was still under way in some areas.
The castle that previously stood on the site was in 1933 designated as a national treasure but was destroyed by fire in the fierce fighting for Okinawa in the closing stages of the Second World War. Much of the site had since been reconstructed, although archeological work and rebuilding was still under way in some areas.
The latest version of the castle was built based on original plans and photos of the original structure.
“I am extremely shocked by the initial reports of the fire at Shuri Castle”, Mikiko Shiroma, mayor of Naha, told national broadcaster NHK.
“It is a World Heritage site that represents Okinawa."
“Naha City will make the greatest possible efforts and do everything in our power” to deal with the fire and the rebuilding of the castle, he said.