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Locals fear dip in Okinawa tourism after Shuri Castle fire

Smoke rises from Shuri Castle in the Okinawa Prefecture capital of Naha on Oct. 31, 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Ryukyu Shimpo)

NAHA -- The Oct. 31 predawn destruction by fire of Shuri Castle, a historical site that was once the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom, has brought with it a pessimistic mood among some around the tourist attraction, while others have played down the incident's potential adverse effects on the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa.

A 69-year-old resident of the Shuri district of Naha, the capital of Okinawa Prefecture, looked shocked as he watched sparks fly from the castle's southern wing. He said, "It was the pride of Okinawan residents, rebuilt over a long period. It's probably going to have an effect on tourism and the economy here. With the local and national government at odds over American bases here, I wonder if it will get rebuilt."

Yukie Nohara, 58, who has run a cosmetics sales company near the castle for almost 30 years, expressed concerns that the fire will reduce local tourism. "The number of tourists from China, Taiwan and other regions, as well as Japanese visitors, suddenly increased after the main hall of the castle, which is the symbol of the Ryukyu Kingdom, and other buildings were restored," she said.

While mentioning that many tour buses carrying children on school excursions and other groups of tourists frequently pass by her company each November, Nohara said, "I wonder what will happen to the bustle."

Akihiro Otsuji, 54, who runs an ice cream shop in front of the castle, is pessimistic about the business environment for the foreseeable future. "I'm worried almost no tourists will come here for some time. I think all the shops here will face difficulties doing business," he said.

His view is shared by a 25-year-old employee at an Okinawan themed restaurant near the castle. "Many tourists came to our restaurant after going to Shuri Castle. We've already had several cancellations. I'm afraid tourists will stop coming here in groups."

Some other businesses are approaching the situation more calmly, with an official at a local taxi company saying, "Shuri Castle isn't the only place for tourists visiting Okinawa."

Tomoo Takeda, a senior researcher at the Naha-based Ryugin Research Institute, said the number of tourists visiting Okinawa is unlikely to decline sharply.

"We must study how the incident will affect tourists' spending at businesses near Shuri Castle. Considering that it's just one of the spots tourists come to Okinawa to visit, the overall number of tourists visiting the prefecture shouldn't decrease significantly," he said.

(Japanese original by Kenta Somatani and Ken Nakazato, Kyushu News Department)

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