National

Japan to launch panel to draw up restoration plans for Okinawa's Shuri Castle

JIJI, Kyodo

The government plans to advance reconstruction efforts for fire-damaged Shuri Castle in Okinawa Prefecture by establishing a council of experts who were involved in the restoration of the castle in 1992.

The plan was unveiled Monday by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga during the second meeting of relevant ministers held at the Prime Minister’s Office in Tokyo.

The planned panel, to be established at the Cabinet Office’s Okinawa General Bureau, will soon start discussions on technical aspects of the reconstruction of the UNESCO World Heritage site in Naha, the prefecture’s capital. Experts from the Okinawa Prefectural Government will also be involved in the talks.

The panel will draw up basic plans for rebuilding the castle by year-end, Suga said.

The fire occurred in the small hours of Oct. 31, heavily damaging seven buildings, including the Seiden main hall. Shuri Castle was previously rebuilt in 1992 from scratch as part of a state-managed park — the original castle was burned to the ground in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa in World War II.

“It is important to accurately reproduce Shuri Castle based on measures taken from the previous restoration,” Suga said.

Monday’s ministerial meeting was also attended by Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who reported actions taken by the prefecture, such as the establishment of a team focused on reconstruction strategies for the castle.

“I would like to have the people of Okinawa’s opinions reflected” in discussions by the planned expert panel, he said.

During the meeting, Suga also said the government will help boost tourism in Okinawa in line with local needs.

According to government sources, an idea to use projection mapping to show an image of Shuri Castle at the burnt-down site has been floated as a way to help tourism.

People who make their living from tourism to Shuri Castle, which attracted an estimated 2.8 million visitors in fiscal 2018, are increasingly voicing their concerns after the fire.

“The number of visitors coming in groups, including foreigners, has dropped significantly, and the length of visits has become shorter,” says Noboru Tokashiki, 45, who takes commemorative photos of members of group tours in front of the castle’s Shureimon gate.

Keiko Chinen, a 70-year-old woman who sells sweets at a nearby store, said: “Currently, there are visitors coming to see the charred remains. But we don’t know how it will be in six months.”

Experts and local government officials, however, deny that there will be major adverse effects on the entire tourism industry in the prefecture.

“Unlike in times of earthquakes, it’s not that the whole prefecture has suffered damage. The impact of losing the symbol is big, but it’s hard to see in numbers,” says Toshio Takeda, a researcher at the Ryugin Research Institute Ltd.

According to the Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau, an affiliate of the prefectural government, the number of tourists to Okinawa is expected to increase by up to 5 percent from a year earlier in January and remain almost flat in February.

A bureau official said about 800 schools that are planning excursions to Okinawa by March 31 are unlikely to cancel their trips. “We’re recommending visits to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum instead of Shuri Castle,” the official added.

“Local tourism firms have not reported trip cancellations that are massive enough to affect the whole of the industry,” a senior prefectural government official said.