The Japanese government on Friday decided to restore the gutted Shuri Castle in Okinawa by 2026 after embarking on full-fledged reconstruction in 2022.
The government aims to enhance fire-prevention measures by installing sprinklers, missing at the castle previously, and automatic fire-detector alarms. Structural systems will also be improved to allow fires to be extinguished at an early stage.
The main buildings of the castle, a symbol of the southern island prefecture and located at a World Heritage site, were destroyed in a fire on Oct. 31. The blaze is suspected to have been caused by an electrical fault.
The fire devastated six wooden buildings occupying over 4,000 square meters on a hill overlooking the prefectural capital, Naha.
"Shuri Castle is an important building that can be said to be the pride of the people of Okinawa. We will restore Shuri Castle with responsibility," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
While small-scale reconstruction work began on Feb. 10, including removing debris, the government will draw up the design in fiscal 2020 through next March, according to the schedule.
The government will work closely with the Okinawa prefectural government to restore the castle.
"This is a step forward for reconstruction. The contents (of the plan) firmly reflect the thoughts of local people," the prefecture's governor, Denny Tamaki, said in a comment.
"We will continue to cooperate with the government, and work diligently to promote tourism by showing the progress of reconstruction," it said. "We will also formalize a management system that prevents such incidents from occurring again."
Wood to reconstruct the burned-down Seiden main building will mainly come from domestic Cupressaceae, a type of cypress tree, as the original native wood species is likely to be difficult to obtain.
Shuri Castle was the center of politics, foreign affairs and culture in the Ryukyu Kingdom from 1429 until Okinawa was annexed by Japan in 1879. It has burned down several times, including during World War II, but opened as a national park in 1992 with the Seiden main hall and some other buildings restored.
The basic reconstruction plan formulated last December is modeled after the previous restoration plan with strengthened fire prevention measures. The restored Seiden will be modelled on the structure built in 1712, which was designated as a national treasure in 1925 before burning down during the war.