Sacred men-only island gains ‘World Heritage’ status


A sacred island and three reefs, as well as four other related sites in southwestern Japan, were added to UNESCO’s World Heritage list on Sunday, the international body said.

The 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.

The four sites added per Japan’s proposal include a set of ancient tombs on the northern tip of Kyushu and two Munakata Taisha Shrine pavilions. Okinoshima is home to Okitsumiya, another pavilion under the shrine.

In May, the UNESCO preliminary review panel recommended against adding the four sites, saying they do not have sufficient value for the world, but Tokyo persisted.

Sunday’s decision marks the fifth year straight that Japanese assets have been listed, bringing the total of Japanese items on the cultural and natural heritage list to 21.

The island, midway between Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula, upholds ancient rules restricting entry, including a ban on women.

Around 80,000 items unearthed on the island have been designated as national treasures, including a gold ring made on the peninsula and cut glass from Persia, now Iran.

The shrine was used to conduct prayer rituals for Japan’s exchanges with other Asian lands as well as the safety of maritime trips during the fourth to ninth centuries.

Koichiro Matsuura, a former head of UNESCO, said that it was rare for the body to approve an island that played a religious role as part of World Heritage and that the listing has great significance.

Matsuura said the World Heritage Committee approved all the eight sites, overturning a recommendation in May as the government and relevant municipalities made a last-minute pitch for the religious quality of the asset group involving three pavilions.

Following the preliminary review panel’s recommendation not to list the four sites, Japanese officials explained the interconnectedness of each site to representatives of the countries on the World Heritage Committee, according to the officials.

On Sunday, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno credited the success to those who lobbied for Japan’s stance by speaking to the representatives, saying committee members came to understand that Okinoshima and its related sites convey to the present day a form of worship that has been passed on from ancient times.