Fire-ravaged Shuri Castle built with timber from Taiwan

Okinawa's badly damaged Shuri Castle reconstructed with Taiwan Cypress from Yilan County

Shuri Castle ablaze.

Shuri Castle ablaze. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Unesco World Heritage site Shuri Castle, which suffered extensive damage from a fire on Thursday (Oct. 31), had been reconstructed over the years using Taiwan Cypress timber.

The Naha City Fire Department in Japan's southern prefecture of Okinawa received a report Thursday morning that a fire had broken out at the castle at about 2:40 a.m., reported NHK. The blaze reportedly started in the castle's main hall and quickly spread to the nearby Seiden temple and Hokuden structure.

Both the Seiden temple and Hokuden structure have since burned completely to the ground. A total of six structures have reportedly suffered damage from the flames.

(AP photo)

A scholar involved in the castle's restoration over the decades was in complete disbelief at the disaster. He pointed out that Taiwan Cypress (檜木) was imported from northeast Taiwan's Yilan County to reconstruct structures in the castle, reported NewTalk.

Kurayoshi Takara, a professor emeritus at Ryukyu University who also participated in the restoration of the castle, was speechless at the sight of the entire complex going up in flames. He told NHK that the building was a symbol of the history of the Ryukyu Islands and that it had been painstakingly rebuilt through the hard work of many people.

Dana Masayuki, curator of the Okinawa Prefectural Museum and Art Museum and participant in the landmark's restoration, told NHK that because he knew how much work went into its reconstruction, he could still not believe it happened. Masayuki recalled that when the restoration project first started, there was nothing to refer to and no craftsmen still alive who had worked on the castle.

(AP photo)

"Even the wood was shipped from Taiwan," said Masayuki. He observed that the restoration of Shuri Castle drew on the wisdom of many.

The original castle on the site was built during the Ryukyu Dynasty nearly 500 years ago and was deemed a Japanese national treasure in 1933. However, the castle was burned to the ground by U.S. forces in the Battle of Okinawa during WWII because it served as the headquarters of the Imperial Japanese army.

The front gate was first restored in 1958, while the main hall was not restored until 1992. The remnants of the original castle were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

Restored Seiden temple before Thursday's fire. (AP photo)