No girls al­lowed: Ja­pan’s men-only is­land gets UNESCO nod

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

Amen-only is­land in Ja­pan where women are banned and male vis­i­tors must bathe naked in the sea be­fore vis­it­ing its shrine, has been de­clared a UNESCO World Her­itage site. The tiny land­mass of Oki­noshima is per­ma­nently manned by a Shinto priest who prays to the is­land’s god­dess, in a tra­di­tion that has been kept up for cen­turies. Lim­ited num­bers are per­mit­ted to land on the is­land in the Sea of Ja­pan (East Sea) — this year it was 200 — for a yearly fes­ti­val that lasts just two hours, but they must ad­here to strict rules.

Most im­por­tantly, they must be men, but they must also strip off and take a pu­ri­fy­ing dip in the ocean be­fore they are al­lowed to set foot on the sa­cred ground of the shrine. De­spite its in­scrip­tion on UNESCO’s World Her­itage list of­ten the pre­lude to a leap in tourist num­bers shrine of­fi­cials say they are now con­sid­er­ing ban­ning fu­ture travel for any­one apart from priests, partly out of fears the is­land could be “de­stroyed” by too many vis­i­tors. “The is­land has some­times been said to ban women, but in prin­ci­ple any­one but the priests who pray there for 365 days a year is barred from en­ter­ing,” said a spokesman.

The ban on fe­male vis­i­tors specif­i­cally “has noth­ing to do with dis­crim­i­na­tion against women,” the of­fi­cial told AFP by phone. It is con­sid­ered dan­ger­ous for women to travel by sea to get to the is­land and the shrine will not change the cen­turiesold rule, he said. “It is meant to pro­tect women, the birth-giv­ing gen­der,” he added. The is­land, which sits off the north­west coast of Kyushu, the south­ern­most of Ja­pan’s four main is­lands, was an im­por­tant win­dow for for­eign trade in Ja­pan since an­cient times, form­ing part of a trade route that linked the ar­chi­pel­ago to the Korean penin­sula and China. Thou­sands of gold rings and other valu­able items have been found there.

“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. UNESCO’s her­itage com­mit­tee con­sid­ered 33 sites for the pres­ti­gious sta­tus at its an­nual gath­er­ing in Poland. On Sun­day it also ac­cepted Ta­puta­pu­atea, a por­tion of the “Poly­ne­sian Tri­an­gle” in the South Pa­cific thought to be the last part of the globe set­tled by hu­mans, to the list. It also added Bri­tain’s Lake Dis­trict-muse for artists from Wil­liam Wordsworth to Beatrix Pot­ter-and the Va­longo wharf in Rio de Janeiro where slaves from Africa first ar­rived in Brazil. UNESCO’s World Her­itage list in­cludes over 1,000 sites, mon­u­ments and nat­u­ral phe­nom­ena that are of “out­stand­ing uni­ver­sal value” to hu­mankind. It in­cludes trea­sures such as Aus­tralia’s Great Bar­rier Reef, the Taj Ma­hal in In­dia, and the rock-carved city of Pe­tra in modern-day Jor­dan. — AFP

A pic­ture shows art­work on dis­play at the “60 Glasses of Tea” art ex­hi­bi­tion in Ar­bil, the cap­i­tal of the au­ton­o­mous Kur­dish re­gion of north­ern Iraq. The ex­hi­bi­tion is called “60 Glasses of Tea” as each of the 60 pieces of work is like a glass of tea served to en­joy in the hum­ble set­ting of an old prison. It fea­tures dual art by two fe­male artists, Kur­dish-Iraqi Asuda Rwandzi and the Dan­ish Lone Bendixen Goulani. — AFP

This pic­ture shows res­i­dents in Mu­nakata city cel­e­brat­ing fol­low­ing the news that Oki­noshima, its nearby reefs and four other re­lated sites in the Mu­nakata re­gion have been in­cluded as UNESCO world her­itage sites. — AFP

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