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Donations pour in to help restore quake-damaged Kumamoto Castle

The keep of Kumamoto Castle, whose stone walls and roof have partially crumbled, is seen in this aerial photo taken on April 22, 2016. (Mainichi)

KUMAMOTO -- Financial aid is pouring in from around Japan to pay for repairs to quake-damaged Kumamoto Castle, a landmark counted among three of the finest castles in Japan.

A collapsed stone wall by the "Inui" turret of Kumamoto Castle is seen in this April 20, 2016 photo. (Mainichi)

The castle, damaged by two massive earthquakes in April, is said to have been built in 1607 by the feudal warlord Kato Kiyomasa. The powerful earthquakes caused stone walls all around the castle to collapse and left its keep on a lean.

The Kumamoto Municipal Government is accepting money for repairs, and donation boxes have been set up at other castles around the country. A number of high-ranking individuals both from Japan and overseas have also pledged support. Continuing aftershocks, however, have prevented officials from completing a thorough check of the damage, and a long road lies ahead for the castle's restoration.

On April 30, sightseers surveyed the castle and its collapsed roof tiles and tilted keep from afar.

"Look what's happened to it," said Yukiko Uchino, 45, lamenting over the damage. "If I can do anything to help, I want to."

The "Iidamaru Gokai" turret of Kumamoto Castle, with much of its supporting stones collapsed, is seen in this April 22, 2016 photo. (Photo courtesy of the Kumamoto Municipal Government)

In fiscal 2015, Kumamoto Castle welcomed around 1.77 million visitors, making it one of Japan's major tourism spots. Since the earthquakes, the castle's four gates have remained closed, and people can't approach the main tower.

Kumamoto Castle's keep burned down in a fire of unknown origin during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877, but it was reconstructed in 1960. During the Kumamoto earthquakes in April, all 13 of the castle's structures that are designated as important cultural properties by the national government were damaged, five of them seriously.

Around one-third of the castle's 242-meter "Nagabei" long wall collapsed, and the "Akazu no Mon" gate and "Kita Juhachiken" and "Higashi Juhachiken" warehouses also sustained heavy damage. The floor of "Iidamaru Gokai" turret on the castle's southwest is now exposed and the turret is barely supported by a single remaining column of stones.

To help repair the castle in its time of need, support has poured in from around the country. The Nippon Foundation announced in April it would donate 3 billion yen. On April 21 the Kumamoto Municipal Government began accepting donations for quake reconstruction, and by April 26 it had received 17.13 million yen.

The "Minami Otemon" gate of Kumamoto Castle with collapsed stones is seen in this April 20, 2016 photo. (Mainichi)

A charity event began on April 29 at the reopened tourism center Sakura-no-baba Josaien, where all proceeds are being donated to restoring the castle. On the second day, April 30, all 1,000 of the products on sale that day sold out 20 minutes after opening.

At least 17 castles around the nation, including Hirosaki Castle, Nagoya Castle and Osaka Castle, have set up boxes to gather donations for repairs. United States Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and other high-ranking officials have visited Kumamoto Castle since the quakes and offered their support.

The general office for Kumamoto Castle, however, says that "repairs will take over 10 years and may cost tens of billions of yen."

Noriaki Hirose, chairman of the Japan Society of Civil Engineers, which surveyed the castle on April 30, says, "It is possible to restore the stone walls, but we have to also think about making it more quake-resistant."

Donations can be wired to the Higo Bank Kumamoto City Office branch, regular account, No. 1471716, under the account name "Kumamotojo Saigai Fukkyu Shienkin" (Kumamoto Castle disaster recovery fund).

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