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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC



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Reconstructing Kumamoto Castle

Jun. 17, 2016

Recent earthquakes in southern Japan caused heavy damage to an important cultural landmark, but artisans and workers are teaming up to repair Kumamoto Castle.

It's been 2 months since earthquakes hit the Kyushu area in southern Japan. Workers have begun preparations to rebuild the castle's stone walls. But there are many problems to overcome for a complete restoration.

The castle, which dates back to 1607, was once the power base of feudal lords. They built its massive stone walls and towers.

Much of the castle was badly damaged by recent earthquakes and aftershocks. It was the first time the structure had sustained such damage. Thirty percent of the walls were affected. Another 13 properties on the castle grounds were damaged.

The damage of the iconic landmark has been a big blow to the local people who have lived beside it for decades.

"It was a shock -- so sad," says one resident.

"I grew up with the castle so I almost cried," says another.

Artisans and repair workers are now restoring the structure. It's a big job that could take many years.

The first step is to repair the walls, matching new stones with the originals. Preserving the castle is crucial because it has the status of an Important Cultural Property.

"It's important to consider how to return the castle to its original state, as it is one of Japan’s treasures and a point of local pride," says Murata Yoshinori, an official with the Agency for Cultural Affairs.

Restorers got ideas about repair methods at a castle in Fukushima Prefecture. It is about 1000 kilometers from Kumamoto City.

Komine Castle in Fukushima prefecture was damaged in the 2011 earthquake. The stone walls crumbled in 10 places. Repairs are still not finished.

Workers use a crane to return stones to their original position. Each one has been numbered.

"These are the descriptions for every stone that fell," says Isao Suzuki, head of the Metropolitan Development Office in Shirakawa City.

City officials checked all 7,000 stones for cracks.

Finding the location and position for the new stones was a big challenge. Each of them was photographed from 6 different angles. The pictures were compared with ones taken before the earthquake. The resulting data was used to create this diagram.

Skilled craftspeople make careful adjustments to ensure the stones are returned to their original positions. The heaviest weigh a ton each.

The surrounding stones are also checked to see whether they fit. Only 5 or 6 stones are replaced per day, on average. Restoration will be completed in about 3 years. The cost could reach nearly $50 million.

"The castle is hundreds of years old, so the repair work must be historically accurate. Restoring the castle to its original state is a matter of local pride," Suzuki says.

The restoration team in Kumamoto faces even bigger challenges. They have 5-times the number of walls to fix.

Hiroshi Kitano is an expert who says a difficult task lies ahead before restoration can start.

He says some parts of the castle are precariously supported by bits of stone wall that could collapse during restoration.

"Some sections of the castle might have to be moved to repair the stone walls. We’ll need to figure out the best method for doing this," Kitano says.

He's also concerned about fissures in the ground.

There's a danger that walls could collapse because the earthquakes made the castle's foundations fragile. That has to be taken into consideration when repairs are carried out.

Work to remove stones from collapsed walls started this month. It will take a long time to restore Kumamoto Castle to its former glory.

But the people of the city are fully behind the project. They're proud of the castle -- an iconic part of the heritage of Kumamoto.