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Okinoshima Island in Japan Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site

Okinoshima Island in Japan Declared UNESCO World Heritage Site

The ban on female visitors "has nothing to do with discrimination against women", an official told AFP.

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 worldwide body said.

The visitors who are allowed must be men but they must strip naked and take a purifying dip in the ocean before they are allowed to set foot on the sacred ground of the shrine on the island.

This is Okinoshima, a sacred island off the coast of mainland Japan.

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. "These treasures are believed to have been offered to the gods in order to pray for national prosperity and the safety of marine traffic", says the website of Munakata Taisha, the shrine which owns Okinoshima.

To be awarded World Heritage status a site must be of outstanding universal value and must meet one of the ten selection criteria.

Four other related sites were added to the list as well.

Today, male priests from Munakata Taisha, a group of Shinto shrines, are allowed to worship at this shrine. This year the number has been kept at 200 for an annual festival that lasts just two hours, but the visitors must adhere to strict rules and regulations.

"Shinto treats blood as an impurity".

There is little chance that the gender bar will be lifted after the island is included on the Unesco World Heritage list. Other accounts said women were not allowed to participate in maritime travel because it was considered unsafe and the men wanted to ensure the safety of child-bearers.

The 700-square-metre island, along with three nearby reefs and four other related sites were given world heritage status at the United Nations body's annual summit in Krakow, Poland, on Sunday, bringing the number of Japanese cultural and natural sites on the list to 21.

"We wouldn't open Okinoshima to the public even if it is inscribed on the Unesco cultural heritage list, because people shouldn't visit out of curiosity", he said.