Visitors to be banned from Japan’s men-only UNESCO island starting in 2018

AFP-JIJI

Visitors will not be allowed to set foot on Japan’s men-only UNESCO World Heritage island starting next year, an official said Saturday.

Tiny Okinoshima, where women are banned and male visitors must bathe naked in the sea before visiting its shrine, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site last week.

Tourists have been permitted to land on the Sea of Japan island in limited numbers — this year it was 200 — for a yearly festival that lasts just two hours. And they must adhere to strict rules.

But Munakata Taisha, the shrine that owns Okinoshima, has decided to ban anyone except the priests next year to protect the island from being damaged from all of the publicity, a spokesman said.

“Strict preservation is a must now that the island has received a UNESCO listing,” he said.

“It will be risky if 200 visitors continue to come to the island,” he said, adding that Okinoshima is “the island protected by Shinto priests”.

The island is permanently manned by a Shinto priest who prays to the island’s goddess, a tradition that has been practiced for centuries.

Academics, however, will be allowed to enter the island for research and preservation purposes, he added.

The island off Kyushu’s northwest coast was an important window to foreign trade in ancient times, forming part of a route that linked the Japanese archipelago to the Korean Peninsula and China.