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Why Shuri Castle Timber Work Sparks Hope for 2026 Opening!

Construction crews are working to fully restore the UNESCO World Heritage Site to its past glory.


Wed 27 Dec 23

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Carpenters working to restore the historic Shuri Castle in Okinawa, southern Japan, have now finished the wooden frame and fitted the ridge beam to support the new roof.

It marks a significant development for the restoration of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which in August saw the Taiwan government donate five high red cypress trees (14% of its harvest) to assist with the rebuild.

Now, Wood Central can reveal that construction crews have successfully assembled a massive ridge beam, which, according to head engineer Okumara Koji, used “traditional architectural techniques to interlock” more than 500 wooden pillars and beams.

The work was finalised on Monday (Christmas Day) with carpenters using a crane to lift and fully install four pieces of timber and place them under a single roof.

It comes after at least seven buildings, including the main structure at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, burned to the ground in October 2019.

At the time, the BBC reported firefighters battled flames for over 10 hours with the wooden Castle, built 500 years ago and wholly restored after World War Two.

The main structures of Shuri Castle, a World Heritage site and symbol of Okinawa, are destroyed in a predawn fire. Footage courtesy of @NipponTVNews24Japan.

“The many wooden structures and the [recently reapplied] lacquer may have also had an effect,” an unidentified officer told the Asahi Shimbun newspaper at the time of the fire.

Once the Ryukyu dynasty’s seat, Shuri Castle sits on top of a hill overlooking the city of Naha – Okinawa’s capital – surrounded by curved stone walls.

One resident said the Castle was “god-like”.

“To us, the Shuri Castle is a god-like existence,” 84-year-old Toyoko Miyazato told the Asahi Shimbun. “I am so sad I don’t know what to say.”

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An image of the Castle, dated 1877, shows a pair of dragon pillars facing forward. The reconstruction will be the fourth time in history that the Castle has been fully rebuilt. (Photo Credit: Herve Bernard / Okinawa Prefectural Archives).

However, nearly 12 months after the reconstruction commenced (in November 2022), Mr Koji is confident that the rebuild “is on track” and will be finished in time for a full reopening in 2026.

In 2020, the Japanese Times reported on the rebuild’s obstacles – which included securing the wood, the ownership of Shuri Castle and revision of a city revitalisation plan that consists of the area around the site.

The current Castle was rebuilt and opened to the public in 1992.

It was registered as a World Heritage site in 2000 and was the site for the Okinawa Summit in the same year, appearing in commemorative 2000-yen notes.

From Ryukyu to Japan, war to peace – Shuri Castle has been there through everything and was a symbol of identity for the Okinawa people.

Author

  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.

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