Male-only Japanese island gets Unesco stamp of approval


Aerial image of Okinoshima Island in Munakata, Fukuoka, Japan. Source: Getty Images via Wochit

AN island in the southwest of Japan that bans women visitors was recently acknowledged by Unesco as a World Heritage Site.

The island of Okinoshima in Fukuoka is a male-only space where men are required to strip naked and be “cleansed” in waters before setting foot on the island. The ritual is called misogi and is performed to rid of “impurities”.

BBC reported once the men leave, they were not allowed to bring home anything – whether a fallen twig or even a blade of the grass – nor reveal details of the trip.

Located 60km off the coast western coast of Kyushu, Okinoshima is a sacred island where many rituals were once performed, including those to pray for the safety of seafarers. It’s also the home of the Okitsu shrine that was built in the 17th century and is a part of the Munakata Grand Shrine.

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Because the island lies between Kyushu and the Korean peninsula, some 80,000 artefacts have been uncovered from past exchanges including gold rings.

While Okinoshima welcomes visitors all year round within a restricted annual number of 200, the controversial women ban has puzzled critics about the Unesco acknowledgement.

Unesco has famously considered “gender equality as a fundamental human right, a building block for social justice and an economic necessity”, and endorsing a male-only island has been deemed as “hypocritical” of the cultural body.

The reason for the women ban remains unclear but some believe menstrual blood is “impure” especially when in contact with “dangerous” waters.