Island Where Women Are Banned Granted UNESCO World Heritage Status

Iran's historic city of Yazd inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List

Okinoshima island is home to an ancient religious site built in the 17th century and has three small sacred Shinto shrines.

They also include sites rich with cultural history, including Japan's island of Okinoshima, an ancient ritual spot with well-preserved archaeological sites; Greenland's Kujataa, a sub-arctic farming landscape that bears witness to the successful cohabitation of Norse hunter-gatherers and Inuit farming communities; and Taputapuātea, a site on the Polynesian island Ra'iatea thought to be the last part of the globe settled by humans. The date is derived from when sailors died in the Battle of Tsushima Strait, near Okinoshima, during the Russo-Japanese War.

Thousands of gold rings and other valuable items have been found there.

Until such doubts are put to rest, the official website of The Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region states, "Okinoshima is situated on private land owned by Munakata Taisha, and it is a criminal offence to visit the island without permission from the shrine". Even then there are a strict set of rules that have to be followed by outsiders.

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Another theory is that traveling to the island by boat used to be extremely risky and so women were forbidden from going as a protection offering. But before they can do so, they must strip off and bathe in the ocean, a purifying tradition.

The ban on female visitors specifically "has nothing to do with discrimination against women", the official told AFP by phone.

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. Not only that, women are perceived to be permanently impure due to the fact that they menstruate. Some accounts said it is because Shinto traditions held that menstrual blood indicated impurity.

But even the measly few who are allowed to visit may soon not be.

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Takayuki Ashizu, chief priest of the Munakata Grand Shrine said the island would never become a tourist attraction.

The added treasure is home to the Okitsu shire and according to Shinto customs, women are not allowed visit the island.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization decided at a meeting in Krakow, southern Poland, to list the island of Okinoshima and the nearby reefs plus four other sites in Fukuoka Prefecture that a UNESCO preliminary review panel had recommended Japan should drop.

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