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Japan’s Shuri Castle attracts funds for rebuilding as crisis response to fire slammed 

Japan’s Shuri Castle attracts funds for rebuilding as crisis response to fire slammed 
December 2, 2019

Following the destruction by fire in October 2019 of the UNESCO World heritage site, Shuri Castle, a popular tourist location in the capital of the Japanese island of Okinawa, donations to Okinawa Prefecture and its capital Naha to help rebuild the Castle have surpassed US$10 million.

With the central government planning to take the initiative in rebuilding the Castle, the use of the financial contributions is yet to be decided.

As reported by the Japanese Times, the Okinawa Prefectural Government has set up an office under the direct supervision of Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki to discuss how to make use of the funds. Governor Tamaki has said his government plans to hold discussions with the state.

The fire engulfed several of the restored wooden buildings including the Seiden hall, the Hokuden north hall and the Nanden south hall. The 500-year-old castle attracted about 2.8 million people in the 12 months to the end of March 2019 with the site being on the route of next year’s Tokyo Olympic torch relay. 

On 1st November, the day after the fire, the Naha Municipal Government started accepting donations on Furusato Choice, a portal site for the furusato nozei, or hometown donation system. Now, a month after donations commenced, and combined with the donations to the prefectural government, the total stands at just under US$11 million.

Governor Tamaki hopes to draw up a reconstruction plan for Shuri Castle in May 2022, the 50th anniversary of Okinawa’s reversion to Japanese control after World War II.

Meanwhile, Robert D. Eldridge, Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-7, Government and External Affairs (G-7), Marine Corps Installations Pacific/Marine Forces Japan, has criticised the lack of crisis management by Governor Tamaki on the Japan Forward website

Dr Eldrige. a Visiting Scholar at both Okinawa International University’s Institute of Law and Politics and Hosei University’s Institute for Okinawan Studies in Tokyo, as well as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for International Policy Studies, also in Tokyo, claims that the Okinawa prefectural government’s crisis management capabilities “were nearly non-existent” and adds “it would not be an exaggeration to say that the disaster at Shuri Castle was in many ways the result of the prefectural government’s failure to plan for the worst.

Dr Eldridge notes that “In the case of the Shuri Castle fire, as it turns out, the prefecture made no request for U.S. military helicopters to help with the firefighting. Had a request been made, it is likely that there would have been less damage. 

“Curiously, not only did the prefecture avoid asking the U.S. military to assist, but it also refrained from requesting assistance from the Japan Self-Defense Forces.”

Dr Eldridge adds “This unfortunate lack of cooperation, I believe, is behind the scale of the Shuri Castle fire. Crisis management is not just a phrase. It is one of the most important responsibilities governments, organizations, and other entities must execute. 

“It is likely there will be more reports about what went wrong, including some whistleblowing. This is important, as it will lead to better government and improvements in protecting cultural assets.

“It will be necessary to overcome the Shuri Castle tragedy in the short term, while also rebuilding relations with the central government over the longer term. Looking at Governor Tamaki’s record over the past year, it is unclear if he has the ability to do so. 

“However, there is no doubt that many people in the country, the U.S. military, and others who love Okinawa hope to support and help rebuild the prefecture, starting with cooperation out of the Shuri Castle fire.”

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