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Rebuilding Japan’s Shurijo Castle in the Cloud

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When fire struck Okinawa’s Shurijo Castle in October 2019, it damaged a part of Japanese history dating back to the Ryukyu Kingdom of 1429-1879.

The Japanese government is planning to rebuild the site—but that process will take time. To preserve and highlight the castle’s heritage and culture in the meantime, Google Arts & Culture and the Okinawa Prefectural government are launching a digital project called Reconstructing Shurijo Castle

We spoke with Denny Tamaki, the Governor of Okinawa, about the exhibition’s significance. 

Tell us what you’re most excited about with this project. 

It would definitely be the 3D reconstructed models of Seiden Temple, the main temple of Shurijo Castle. The model was built by a group of engineers, students and computer vision and VR researchers. They collected 80,000 photos shared by 3,000 people across the globe who wanted to see the digital reconstruction of this beloved site and preserve the legacy of Ryukyu culture for generations to come. 

We hope this online exhibition will rekindle fond memories for those who have visited Shurijo Castle, and that those who have yet to see the site will be even more excited about visiting once it’s restored.  

What are some of the other highlights for you? 

One of the stories allows you to experience the beauty of the castle from an architectural point of view. You can explore the Main Hall of the castle, which was decorated using Ryukyuan lacquerware, characterized by its vivid red color, the use of inlaid seashells and various Ryukyuan artistic motifs incorporating Japanese and Chinese influences. 

There is also "Then and Now: Shurijo Castle From The Sky", which begins with a drawing of Shurijo Castle from the first half of the 19th century. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the castle over the years, including after the tragic fire of 2019, and through to the restoration efforts underway today.

  • Shuri Castle main hall

    The main hall of the castle.

  • Shuri Castle throne room

    The throne room that was on the second floor.

  • Shuri Castle from above

    An aerial shot of Shurijo Castle in 2019, before the fire.

What does this project offer audiences, both in Japan, and all over the world? 

Between 1429 and 1945, Shurijo Castle was destroyed by fire four times. Each time, it was restored. 

During the last war in particular, the castle was destroyed without a trace, but the main hall was restored in 1992, thanks to the dedication of ordinary citizens. The castle is a beautiful symbol of resilience and endurance in today’s modern world. 

Shurijo Castle is representative of Ryukyu culture and we believe that by learning about this extraordinary site, people all over the world will be able to experience the history and culture of the Ryukyu Kingdom and the splendor of Okinawa.

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