A little-known Okinoshima island located in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan, is in the news. Home to a unique shrine steeped in Shinto tradition, this island has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here's why it is unique.
Where is Okinoshima?
Okinoshima is off the northwest coast of Kyushu, one of Japan's four main islands. Since ancient times, it was an important window for foreign trade linking the archipelago to the Korean peninsula and China. Okinoshima was used by seafarers to say prayers before venturing out into the ocean. In the 17th century, the Okitsu shrine was built. The Shinto religion is shrouded in mystery and superstition and the followers believe in Kami. Kami is a spiritual being who guides human beings and if treated with respect, offer health wealth and wellbeing.
Who can visit?
On any given day, there is just one monk who is allowed to stay on the island. He offers prayers for ten days and is replaced by another monk. Visitors are allowed entry into the island on just one day every year. The annual festival that lasts just two hours is held on 27 May. This year about 200 people were allowed to visit. And that too after adhering to strict rules. The men who are allowed to visit are expected to strip naked and take a bath in the ocean to purify themselves before walking up the hill to the shrine.
No women allowed
Women are not allowed on this island. According to historians, the tradition stems from fear that a trip across the sea to the island is a dangerous one. The Shinto believe also says that women would be turned to stone if they stepped near the Okitsu shrine. However, the presiding deity is a goddess.
What you see at Okinoshima, remains at Okinoshima
Worshippers offer gold rings and other valuable items to please gods. The visitors are strictly prohibited from taking anything from the island. They are not even supposed to talk about their visit to the island.
What comes next?
Now that it has been awarded a UNESCO world heritage site status, the chief priest at Munakata Taisha says that they will not open the shrine to the public. You can, however, on a good, clear day see the mountains from afar and pray.