Photo/IllutrationFirefighters and police officers investigate near the Seiden main hall of the Shuri-jo castle destroyed by fire last week. (Motoki Nagasawa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

NAHA--Environmental protection of forests and the advancing age of artisans could hinder efforts to rebuild the many wooden structures at the Shuri-jo castle complex that were destroyed by fire early on Oct. 31.

Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki pledged to put every effort into reconstructing what is considered the spiritual core of the Okinawan people.

He met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo on Nov. 1 and later told reporters that the central government was considering providing financial support.

Although Tamaki promised to put together a reconstruction plan by May 2022, which would mark the 50th anniversary of the return of Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty, he acknowledged that major hurdles must be overcome.

“We have to consider realistic issues, such as whether there will be sufficient raw materials and technicians” to carry out the project, Tamaki said.

Kiyoshi Nakamoto, an architect based in Naha, had similar concerns, saying that obtaining the lumber needed would be a difficult task.

Nakamoto was in charge of the restoration project at Shuri-jo castle, which was destroyed by fire during the 1945 Battle of Okinawa. That project was completed in 1992.

The latest fire razed the Seiden main hall as well as the Hokuden and Nanden buildings.

Nakamoto said lumber that can withstand Okinawa’s humidity and with a length of at least 10 meters and a diameter of 1.5 meters would be needed to support the heavy red roof tiles even in strong winds.

He estimated that between 100 and 200 pieces of such lumber would be required for the rebuilding process.

When the earlier restoration project was under way more than 25 years ago, Nakamoto found trees on the main Honshu island that met the requirements.

However, he was unable to obtain local permission to fell those trees. He turned to Taiwan to import cypress trees.

“We still have the design blueprint (for the restoration project), so we can start rebuilding as long as expenses are covered and we can procure the raw materials,” Nakamoto said. “But environmental awareness has increased, so we may face problems finding the proper lumber.”

According to the Cabinet Office, 7.3 billion yen ($67 million) was spent in the last restoration project on the seven or so structures that ended up being damaged or destroyed in the latest fire.

In addition to lumber, rebuilding Shuri-jo castle involves the use of red roof tiles that are symbolic of Okinawa.

All damaged structures will need a total of 220,000 roof tiles, including 55,000 for the Seiden main hall alone.

And then there is the problem of securing enough skilled workers for the job.

“The number of artisans has decreased in line with their advancing age, so I cannot say with confidence that we can rebuild” the castle, said a senior official with the Okinawa prefectural association of red tile and lacquer artisans.

In 1992, Okinawa had about 50 tile artisans, but that number has been halved.

Moreover, when the tiles are placed, lacquer must be applied at the same time. But there is a major shortage of such lacquer artisans not only in Okinawa but throughout Japan.

The few remaining artisans are also elderly, and the techniques have not been adequately passed down to younger generations.

Nakamoto, citing the importance of Shuri-jo castle to the Okinawa people, remains cautiously optimistic about rebuilding.

“I hope they reconstruct it by bringing together technology and support not only within Japan but also from abroad,” he said.