Okinoshima, located midway between the southwestern main island of Kyushu and the Korean peninsula, is home to a 17th-century shrine.
This “men-only” island in Japan that condemns women visitors and only allows males to enter its holy premises has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site.
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. The tiny landmass of Okinoshima is permanently manned by a Shinto priest who prays to the island’s goddess, in a tradition that has been kept up for centuries. Except for the priests, it is only men who can visit the shrine but 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).
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.
UNESCO’s World Heritage list includes over 1,000 sites, monuments and natural phenomena that are of “outstanding universal value” to humankind.
It includes treasures such as Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Taj Mahal in India, and the rock-carved city of Petra in modern-day Jordan.