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Mock-ups and sketches of dragon sculptures lost in fire at Okinawa's Shuri Castle found

Hideo Ima's wife Yoshiko, right, explains to Okinawa Prefecture Government officials about materials her late husband left behind, at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History in Kanazawa on March 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiro Fukao)

KANAZAWA -- Hundreds of wooden mock-ups and preliminary drawings of dragon sculptures that adorned the main hall of Okinawa Prefecture's iconic Shuri Castle, which burned down in 2019, have been found at the home of a late woodcarver here.

    This photo shows Hideo Ima, center, working on the restoration of Shuri Castle. (Photo courtesy of Yoshiko Ima)
    A wooden pattern for a Shuri Castle sculpture created by Hideo Ima is seen at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History in Kanazawa on March 15, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiro Fukao)
    A rough sketch of a wood carving with notes on how to work on it is seen at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History in Kanazawa, on March 15, 2021. (Mainichi/Akihiro Fukao)

    Hideo Ima, a woodcarver from Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, participated in the castle's restoration about 30 years ago. He died in 2014 at age 77. The items are likely to be donated to the Okinawa Prefectural Government, and are expected to become important reference materials for the reconstruction of the castle, once the seat of government of the independent Ryukyu Kingdom.

    After working for a TV station in Osaka and other jobs, Ima studied sculpture in Nanto, Toyama Prefecture, which is famous for its Inami carvings. He began his career as an artist in Kanazawa around 1970, and joined the Shuri Castle restoration project to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Okinawa's return to Japan. He was involved in carvings for the main hall, rebuilt between 1989 and 1992.

    The materials found in Ima's home include wooden mock-ups of sculptures, rough sketches, and photographs documenting the production process. There are about 50 wooden patterns, which are believed to have been used to check sculptures' sizes and shapes during production. On the rough sketches of two dragons facing each other, called "Hoju Soryu Monyo," there are notes in red including "raise the whole design slightly," and "this part is too tight," believed to have been written by Ima during the restoration.

    After the devastating October 2019 fire at the castle, Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art curator Toshiya Tsuruno, who had long been in contact with Ima, went to the woodcarver's house to check the materials related to the restoration.

    "The wooden patterns are full-scale and will be immediately useful at the reconstruction site," said Tsuruno.

    About 100 of the items are currently on display at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History as part of an exhibition of Ima's work. On March 18, Tadashi Yabiku, director of the Okinawa Prefectural Government's special project promotion division, and others visited the museum and Ima's home to inspect the materials. Yabiku said, "These are valuable materials. I think it's a treasure for the people of Okinawa."

    Ima's 74-year-old wife Yoshiko once visited the restored Shuri Castle with her husband. She said she thought of the castle as a memento of her husband, and was shocked when the castle burned down. Regarding the newly confirmed materials, she said, "I'd be so happy if these materials were useful for the reconstruction work. I think my husband would be very happy, too."

    (Japanese original by Akihiro Fukao, Hokuriku General Bureau)

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