A Japanese sacred island, an ancient religious site where women are banned and where men must take off their clothes before stepping foot inside it, has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Okinoshima, which was declared a world heritage site by U.N.’s cultural body, is home to the Okitsu shrine. It was built in the 17th century to pray for the safety of sailors. The island is located midway between the south-western main island of Kyushu and the Korean peninsula.
The island, along with three nearby reefs and four other related sites, was given world heritage status at the U.N. body’s annual summit in Krakow, Poland.
Before stepping foot at its shore, men must perform centuries old rituals. These include, removing their clothes and undergoing “misogi” – which is a Japanese Shinto practice of ritual purification by washing the entire body.
It is believed that bathing naked in the sea will remove all impurities.
According to the island’s website, the men are not allowed to disclose details of their visit and are also prohibited to take home any souvenirs, even twigs, pebbles and blades of grass.
The main reason of women being banned from the site still remains unknown. However, one theory has it that according to Shinto belief, menstrual blood is considered impure which is why women are denied entry to the sacred land.
Priests from a group of Shinto shrines called Munakata Taisha are permitted to travel to worship at the site. Only once a year, 200 men are allowed to visit the site to honor sailors who died in a nearby naval battle during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war.
Okinoshima is also culturally rich as it is home to a huge collection of artifacts. Some 80,000 items, which have been all designated as national treasures, have been uncovered on the island.
The listing on UNESCO world heritage site means the island will receive funds to maintain itself in good condition. However, locals have pointed out that unprincipled tourists could likely ruin the island.
While talking to Japan Times last year, Takayuki Ashizu, the chief priest at Munakata Taisha said, “We wouldn’t open Okinoshima to the public even if it is inscribed on the UNESCO cultural heritage list, because people shouldn’t visit out of curiosity.”