NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga visited fire-hit Shuri Castle in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Saturday, pledging the central government’s all-out efforts toward reconstruction of the key landmark.
Suga inspected the burned-down main hall and other heavily damaged buildings at the UNESCO World Heritage site while receiving explanations from Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki.
“We’ll do all we can to restore the castle while working with the Okinawa Prefectural Government and other local officials, and experts,” Suga told reporters later.
The top government spokesman, who heads a ministerial forum for discussions on Shuri Castle restoration, also voiced the state’s readiness to meet requests from Okinawa, including on tourism promotion.
By showing solidarity with Okinawa on Shuri Castle reconstruction, Suga apparently hopes to move forward with the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma air base from the Okinawa city of Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area in Nago, another city in the prefecture.
The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to “work with responsibility” to rebuild the castle, which is part of a state-managed park in Okinawa. “I hope the reconstruction project will make the ties (between the state and Okinawa) amicable,” a central government official said, signaling Tokyo’s hopes that the project will encourage the Okinawa side to soften its opposition to the base relocation.
Another purpose of Suga’s ongoing visit to Okinawa is campaigning for an Okinawa Prefectural Assembly election, expected for June next year.
He is stepping up preparations to bring about a change in the assembly, where the majority of seats are held by members supporting Tamaki.
After visiting the castle, Suga, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, met with likely candidates in the election and senior members of the party’s Okinawa prefectural chapter at a hotel in Naha.
According to a participant, Suga called on them to enhance their footing toward the assembly race and do their best to win a majority in the election.
During his two-day Okinawa visit through Sunday, Suga is also expected to have talks with conservative mayors and local businessmen to seek support for the election campaign.
Okinawa is cautious about Tokyo’s tactic of trying to advance the Futenma relocation in return for the Shuri Castle reconstruction support. It is unclear whether Suga’s maneuver will bear fruit, as local opposition to the base transfer remains strong, pundits said.