Visitors line up to get a close look at the restored exterior of the main keep of Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto on Oct. 5. Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi and actor Takeru Sato give speeches to mark the reopening of the grounds to the public. (The Asahi Shimbun)

KUMAMOTO--A large crowd marveled at the majestic sight of the restored exterior of the main keep of Kumamoto Castle when the castle grounds were opened to the public on Oct. 5 after more than three years.

The castle suffered extensive damage in a series of strong earthquakes in April 2016 and has been under repair since.

Visitors, including overseas travelers, gazed in wonderment at the 30-meter-tall main keep from a 450-meter-long route on a square near the castle in a special showing that began that day.

A 46-year-old company employee in Kumamoto who stood in line from 5 a.m. that morning said in tears that she was “touched” when she saw the main tower up close for the first time since the temblors ravaged the prefecture.

She said she was forced to live in a makeshift shelter after the disaster damaged her home.

Seeing the castle being gradually restored from a distance during breaks at her workplace encouraged her greatly. Her home has now been rebuilt.

The limited reopening of the grounds came as the repair of the main tower’s collapsed roof tiles and stone walls was completed.

Work to restore the stone walls of the smaller tower nearby has also been completed.

But the interior of the main keep remains closed as restoration work is still ongoing. The entire restoration of the castle is expected to be completed in spring 2021.

The special showing will run through Oct. 14. After that, the grounds will be open to the public only on Sundays and national holidays.

The reopening marked a milestone as the city and other local governments in the prefecture are struggling with rebuilding efforts.

The repair of the castle, which is nationally renowned and dates to the early 17th century, is widely considered as the symbol of the prefecture’s recovery.

Kumamoto Mayor Kazufumi Onishi expressed his gratitude for support given by people across the country in his speech marking the reopening.

“We are determined to pass down the memories of the disaster for posterity through the restoration and showing of the castle,” he said. “We are also proceeding with the recovery in a way to help heal the emotional wounds of people who suffered in the quakes.”

(This article was written by Masayuki Shiraishi and Hideki Yanaru.)