Nestled between the Japanese island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula, the sacred island of Okinoshima boasts an abundance of historical treasure and a rich history dating back thousands of years.
Between the fourth and ninth centuries, the waters surrounding the island were an important trade route for Japan to China and the Korean Peninsula. Okinoshima is home to the Okitsu shrine, part of the Munakata Grand Shrine, which was used to pray for the safe passage of sailors and thier ships. While worshipers are strictly forbidden to remove anything so much as a blade of grass, they are permitted to leave offerings behind and approximately 80,000 artefacts brought as gifts from overseas have been uncovered, including gold rings from the Korean Peninsula and glass cup fragments believed to have come from Persia, the Japanese Times reported.
In recognition of the historical significance of these finds, the island has just been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
But before you add the treasure trove to your travel bucket list, there’s one thing you need to know: women are banned from stepping foot on the 0.4 square mile island.
According to the Japanese Times, Shinto traditions state that women aren’t permitted to visit the island. There are multiple explanations for this ban – which is enforced by the priests of the Munakata Grand Shrine – but some say it is because menstruation would defile the site because the Shinto religion views blood as an ‘impurity’. Others argue that the dangerous nature of voyages to Okinoshima meant that women were prohibited from sailing there in order to protect them as the bearer of offspring.
Despite the island being thrown into the international spotlight it seems that the long-standing tradition is here to stay. Speaking to the Japanese Times, a priest of the Munakata Grand Shrine confirmed that they will continue to prohibit women from visiting Okinoshima.
Even male visitors will have to follow strict rules in order to set foot on the religious site. Okinoshima is owned by the Munakata Taisha Shrine, which in principle allows only its priests to land on the island. However, an exception is made on 27 May each year when around 200 men are given permission to enter the island to remember the Japanese and Russian service personnel who died in the battle of the Sea of Japan in 1905, News.au.com reported.
In the midst of the newfound attention, local people are keen for the sanctity of the island to be upheld by maintaining the restricted access. The local authorities have already been flooded with inquiries from travel agencies and tourists planning visits to the island, reports the Japanese Times, but the chief priest at Munakata Taisha, Takayuki Ashizu, is one of those who oppose seeing Okinoshima become a mere tourist destination.
“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,” Ashizu said.
Due to the legal difficulties in stopping tourists from approaching Okinoshima, it is hoped that people will respect the sacredness of the island as ‘common sense’ while the authorities are considering establishing a facility where tourists can learn more about the island without actually visiting it in a bid to appease international interest.
In the meantime, while access to the island seems an unlikely possibility, it appears that men and women alike are able to view some of the artefacts uncovered on the island at the Kyushu National Museum.