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Japan’s men-only island makes UN heritage list

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WARSAW: Japan’s Okinoshima island, an ancient religious site where women are banned, has been declared a World Heritage site by the UN’s cultural body Unesco.

Okinoshima is home to the Okitsu shrine, built in the 17th century to pray for the safety of sailors.

Before stepping foot on the island, men must take off their clothes and undergo a cleansing ritual.

When they leave they are not allowed to take away any souvenirs, or disclose details of their visit.

Long before the shrine was built, Okinoshima was used for rituals involving prayers for oceangoing ships and trade ties with Korean and Chinese people, the Japan Times reports.

Thousands of artefacts brought as gifts from overseas have been found on the island, including gold rings from the Korean Peninsula, it says.

The island now welcomes visitors on a single day every year, May 27, and ancient rules are still observed. The number of visitors is restricted to 200. They must perform ablution rites in the sea, and – most controversially – be male.

The Lake District in the UK has also made it to the World Heritage List.

The Unesco committee praised the area’s beauty, farming and the inspiration it had provided to artists and writers.

Ancient caves in west Germany with art dating back to the Ice Age and disused silver ore mines in southern Poland were also among the sites that Unesco has added to its list of heritage treasures during its current session.

The Unesco World Heritage List Committee added the mines and caves, and six other sites, to the roster of places called out for special recognition yesterday. During its 11-day session in Poland that started on July 2, the committee so far has added 19 sites to the list.

The designation, which recognises the outstanding universal values of the sites, is meant to draw attention to them and the need to preserve them.

The caves are in the western German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where archaeologists have discovered ancient instruments and carvings made from mammoth ivory, including a 40,000-year-old figure known as the Venus of Hohle Fels. Historians say it is the oldest known image of a human.

The old mines in Tarnowskie Gory are an underground tourist site, visited partly by boat, and are the only industrial site that was added to the list this year.

Among the other new sites on the list are the modernist architecture in Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea; the historic city of Yazd, in Iran; Los Alerces National Park in Argentina and the ancient temple site of Sambor Prei Kuk in Cambodia.

Heated controversies surrounded the addition to the World Heritage List of west China’s Qinghai Hoh Xil mountain area, on the Tibetan Plateau, and of Hebron, which was described in the submission as a Palestinian site, drawing vehement protests from Israel.

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