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Okinoshima, Japan’s men-only island, gains UNESCO World Heritage tag

Jul 11, 2017 09:51 IST

Japan’s men-only island gets UNESCO heritage tag= Okinoshima Island, an ancient religious site in Japan where women are banned and male visitors need to take off their clothes and take a naked bath before visiting the shrine, was declared as a UNESCO world heritage site on 9 July 2017.

Okinoshima, which is a part of the city of Munakata, Fukuoka, Japan, is located in south-west Japan between the main island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula. Referred as the men-only island, the island is permanently manned by a Shinto priest who prays to the island’s goddess, in a tradition that has been kept up for centuries.

The island is considered sacred by the local Munakata Taisha and consists of a single employee of the shrine. The entire island is considered a Shinto Kami, and the island is off limits to women.

What is Shinto Kami?

Shinto also called kami-no-michi is the ethnic religion of Japan that focuses on ritual practices to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present-day Japan and its ancient past.
Kami are the spirits or phenomena that are worshipped in the religion of Shinto.

Area: The island covers an area of 97 ha (240 acres) and has a maximum elevation of 244 m (801 ft).

Munakata Taisha Okitsu shrine

The Munakata Taisha Okitsu shrine, which was established in the mid 17th-century, is located in the southwestern portion of Okinoshima. Before the establishment of the shrine as a sacred natural site, the surrounding site served as a location for the worship of the kami. The shrine has been maintained in relatively the same condition since the Shōwa period 1932, prior to which, it had undergone repair and rebuilt several times.

Yearly festival and permitted numbers

Annual Festival: Reports suggest that island sees an annual festival that lasts just for two hours.

Interesting fact about the festival: Limited numbers of participants are allowed to attend this yearly festival and its must that the visitors should adhere to strict rules. In 2017, the number was just 200.

The strict rules include all participants must be men and must strip off and take a purifying dip in the Ocean before they are allowed to set foot on the sacred ground of the shrine.

Plan of locals after its inscription on UNESCO’s World Heritage list

The local residents of the Okinoshima Island expressed their displeasure or worry after the Island was included in the world heritage list by UNESCO. They say that they would consider banning future travel of anyone to the island apart from priests.

Why the ban on travel/ tourism?

The residents feel that this declaration would lead to increase in tourism, which in result would threaten the sacredness of the place. Reports say that Takayuki Ashizu, the chief priest at Munakata Taisha, said that they would not open it to the public because "people shouldn't visit out of curiosity."

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