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Japan's ancient ritual site Okinoshima joins World Heritage sites

12 July 2017

"The archaeological sites that have been preserved on the Island are virtually intact, and provide a chronological record of how the rituals performed there changed from the 4th to the 9th centuries CE", UNESCO said in a statement.

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.

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.

Okinoshima has a population of one: the lone employee to the shrine which resides over the sacred land.

"The island has sometimes been said to ban women, but in principle anyone but the priests who pray there for 365 days a year is barred from entering", said a spokesman.

"There are varying explanations for the ban, but some say it is because menstruation would defile the site", Ryo Hashimoto wrote in the Japan Times.

The menstrual blood taboo in Shinto is believed to be influenced by the popularity of the Buddhist Blood Pond Sutra, a doctrine that preached that women were condemned to a blood pond hell for the sin of pollution through menstrual blood.

Another reason may be that because sea journeys to the island were considered unsafe, women were banned from travelling there to protect them, as bearers of children.

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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.

Seafarers seeking protection from the gods would stop at the island to pray and make offerings, including beads, mirrors and swords. Approximately 80,000 items discovered on the island were declared national treasures.

Additionally, unlike most historical sites that welcome tourists all year around, Okinoshima is only opened to the general public on the 27th of May of each year.

Currently, the island barely gets visitors.

"Our stance will remain unchanged even if it's registered in the World Heritage List", a Munakata Taisha official told the Mainichi Daily before the UNESCO decision was announced. But globe-trotters wanting to visit Okinoshima may need to reconsider: the island bans women.

Priests from a group of Shinto shrines called Munakata Taisha are permitted to travel to worship at the site.

Home to an ancient religious site, Okinoshima island has made the Unesco World Heritage list.

Japan's ancient ritual site Okinoshima joins World Heritage sites