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‘Men only’ Japanese island declared Unesco world heritage site

And up to 200 men are allowed to visit only once a year

travel Updated: Jul 16, 2017 08:32 IST
Indo Asian News Service, Tokyo
Japan,Unesco,World Heritage Site
A view of Okinoshima island, some 60 kilometres from Munakata city, Fukuoka prefecture. (AFP)

Okinoshima, a sacred island in south-west Japan that bans women and here male visitors must strip naked before going ashore, has been declared a Unesco world heritage site.

The island, located midway between the south-western main island of Kyushu and the Korean peninsula, was once the site of rituals to pray for maritime safety and a centre for relations with China and Korea that stretch back as far as the fourth century, reports the Guardian.

The 700-square-metre island, along with three nearby reefs and four other related sites were given world heritage status at the UN body’s annual summit in Krakow, Poland, on Sunday, bringing the number of Japanese cultural and natural sites on the list to 21.

A Shinto priest holding a ceremony at Okitsugu shrine of the Munakata Taisha in Okinoshima island (AFP)

Priests from Munakata Taisha, a group of Shinto shrines, are in principle permitted to travel to worship at the island’s 17th century shrine, Okitsu.

In addition, up to 200 men are allowed to visit only once a year, on May 27, to honour sailors who died in a nearby naval battle during the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese war.

Devotees purifying themselves with sea water before entering Okinoshima island, (AFP)

Before they go ashore, they must observe centuries-old rituals, including removing their clothes and undergoing misogi - bathing naked in the sea to rid themselves of impurities.

They are prohibited from taking home mementoes, including small objects such twigs, pebbles and blades of grass, the Guardian quoted the island’s website as saying.

The reason for the ban on women has never been publicly stated, but one theory - which extends to other aspects of Japanese culture cites the Shinto belief that menstrual blood is impure.

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First Published: Jul 10, 2017 14:50 IST