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. The male visitors must bathe naked in the sea before visiting its shrine, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Limited numbers are permitted to land on the island in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) — this year it was 200 for a yearly festival that lasts just two hours.
Only men can visit and they must also strip off and take a purifying dip in the ocean before they are allowed to set foot on the sacred ground of the shrine.
“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.
“It is meant to protect women, the birth-giving gender,” he added. The island, which sits off the northwest coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, was an important window for foreign trade in Japan since ancient times, forming part of a trade route that linked the archipelago to the Korean peninsula and China.
UNESCO’s heritage committee considered 33 sites for the prestigious status at its annual gathering in Poland. On Sunday it also accepted Taputapuatea, a portion of the “Polynesian Triangle” in the South Pacific thought to be the last part of the globe settled by humans, to the list.