By As6022014 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By As6022014 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Shinto priests oppose UNESCO Heritage status

The Krakow-headquartered UNESCO World Heritage Committee has notified Japan of its intention to grant World Heritage status to Okinoshima , an island located off the southern Kyushu coast of Japan. It is one of five sites from that geographical area. The Japanese Government is trying to foist the 2017-dated World Heritage status on those five particular sites.

Okinoshima is an extremely small island, only 0.3 square miles. The island is regarded as a venerable landmass by many Japanese. It is home to the Munakata Taisha shrine, a sacred destination. A solitary Shinto priest resident is the only permanent resident on the island.

Fishermen once visited the place to pray for their safety while at sea. This practice has been going on for centuries, dating back to the fourth century.

The shrine of Munakata Taisha Okitsumiya honors the sea goddess. It was believed that she was a guardian of sailors and fishermen. The island hosted a number of rituals with evidence of such present in the thousands of artifacts found buried in the ground. The Japanese Government has designated all of them as national treasures.

The Munakata Taisha island, however, is bound by rigid ancestral rules. One prominent leash is the total ban on women, the reason for which is unclear. Some reasons are speculated to be the “impurity” linked with women's menstruation or the female sex being too fragile to undertake the perilous journey to the island from the Japanese mainland. Some other rules for the island include stripping for cleansing rituals and that any trip to the island must not be disclosed. Visitors are also prohibited to take anything off the island. This has the beneficial effect of the island being covered with untouched forests.

It is apparent that if Munakata Taisha is granted UNESCO status, the sacred island will be inundated by visitors. It will become just another tourist attraction. The island will lose its charm. The locals have welcomed the move. Tadahiko Nakamura of Munakata Fisheries Cooperative said that his community will be honored of UNESCO confers the Heritage status.

Opposition to the UNESCO honor has come from the Shinto priests. They are afraid that the rush of tourists will destroy the pristine nature of this island. Takayuki Ashizu, chief priest of the Munakata Taisha has told the media that Okinoshima will remain off-limits to the public even if it is included in the UNESCO list of cultural heritages as nobody should visit this sacred land only due to curiosity.

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