On 5 June 2020, UNESCO organised an online meeting with the Japanese authorities and an international expert to discuss the response following the devastating fire of October 2019 at the Shuri-jô site, part of the World Heritage site “Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu”
The large fire, which broke out on 31 October 2019, had a significant impact on the Shuri-jô site and affected a number of reconstructed buildings, including the Seiden (state hall), part of a symbolic construction of the site, as well as some underground remains. The ravaged buildings were replica structures, constructed after 1989 on the basis of detailed documentation, which assisted in the visual interpretation of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV).
Immediately after the fire occurred, Japan expressed its intention to restore the property and devoted a great deal of energy and resources to carrying out emergency works. This included an exhaustive investigation and restoration of the damaged parts of the archaeological remains. A work schedule to rebuild the state hall was established at the end of March 2020, and its implementation has begun.
UNESCO has worked closely with the government of Japan to help ensure the appropriate recovery of the property, so as to preserve its OUV. At the occasion of the Online Meeting of Ministers of Culture, convened by UNESCO on 22 April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hagiuda Koichi, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan, reiterated his country’s willingness to proceed with the recovery works in cooperation with UNESCO while paying due attention to the situation of COVID-19.
An on-site UNESCO expert mission had been scheduled for March-April 2020 but had to be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, UNESCO remained in close virtual contact with the Japanese authorities to support their conservation and management efforts. On 5 June, UNESCO convened an online meeting with the Japanese authorities, the World Heritage Centre and international heritage experts, with a view to continuing discussions on the ongoing and planned restoration works. The Agency for Cultural Affairs of Japan presented the current state of conservation of the property and the nationwide efforts to ensure the restoration of the site. During the meeting, technical advice was provided on questions of restoration and site management, especially relating to additional fire prevention measures, the participation of local communities and the fostering of local and traditional crafts.