The sacred Japanese island, Okinoshima, was recently added to UNESCO’s prestigious World Heritage Site list. While the island itself is certainly stunning, there’s one catch to UNESCO’s latest addition – women are not allowed to visit the sacred island for reasons that are not entirely understood.

Historically, Okinoshima is considered to be a kami within the Shinto faith. Kami is understood to be any god-like entity that is complex or awe-inspiring. They can found within nature, people, or even the afterlife.

Okinoshima’s geographical characteristics most likely contributed to it becoming a revered location for the Japanese people. Archeological evidence on the island reveals valuable information on the evolution of Shinto rituals through the years, helping scientists better understand the religion itself as well as its contribution to society.

Photo: Ippei & Janine Naoi via Flickr

There could be a variety of reasons as to why exactly women are not permitted the same rights as men, even when it comes to worshipping within the Shinto faith. It’s possible that old ideas and medical theories that view women as impure still perpetuate in the minds of religious leaders today, having been passed down through the years as beliefs often are. The introduction of Confucianism’s patriarchal dogma could also be a reason that men are still subconsciously favored over women in certain parts of society.

Photo: Ippei & Janine Naoi via Flickr

Incidentally, men must strip naked before going ashore and undergoing misogi – bathing naked in the sea to rid themselves of impurities.

Despite all of these explanations, the impact of Okinoshima becoming a World Heritage Site that also doesn’t allow women could bring a lot of unwanted attention to the island. Access to Okinoshima Island is prohibited to the general public resisting demands from travel agents after the new status was announced. Travel lovers can pay tribute to the shrine from a coastal terrace on the north side of the island as part of a tradition of worshipping the kami from a distance.

As cultures and traditions can definitely evolve over time, perhaps women will one day enjoy the same privileges as the men who worship in this region. However, much like the details of the rituals performed on the island, whether or not this will actually be a reality remains unknown.

Okinoshima is located 60 km off the western coast of Kyushu island. Find out more on the official website of the island. 

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