Fire breaks out at historic Japanese castle

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Shuri Castle – a UNESCO World Heritage site – has been nearly destroyed by fire.

Local police said the fire at Shuri Castle in Naha, the prefectural capital of Okinawa, started from its main structure.

Okinawa police said the main Seiden temple and a Hokuden structure have burned down. A third structure was nearly destroyed.

A firefighter works in front of the burning north hall of Shuri Castle

Firefighters were still battling the blaze a few hours after the fire started early on Thursday and nearby residents were evacuated to safer areas, Okinawa police spokesman Ryo Kochi said.

Nobody has been injured and the cause of the fire is not immediately known.

Footage on NHK television showed the castle engulfed in orange flames.

The ancient castle is a symbol of Okinawa’s cultural heritage from the time of Ryukyu Kingdom that spanned about 450 years from 1429 until 1879 when the island was annexed by Japan.

A fire spread among structures at Shuri Castle on Thursday

The castle is also a symbol of Okinawa’s struggle and effort to recover from the Second World War.

Shuri Castle burned down in 1945 during the Battle of Okinawa near the war’s end, in which about 200,000 lives were lost on the island, many of them civilians.

The castle was largely restored in 1992 as a national park and was designated as the UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

Okinawa was under the US occupation until 1972, two decades after the rest of Japan regained full independence.

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