The prestigious UNESCO award, an accolade, or a curse?

Shutterstock.com/ grandspy_photos

If you have explored some parts of the world you have likely come across a World Heritage Site or UNESCO site during your travels. In fact, you may have come across so many that you wonder if they are really special at all or just something that a country can pay for. In fact, the UNESCO world heritage site accolade is incredibly prestigious and if you find any that are near you, you should ensure you check it out. Today there are 1,121 world heritage sites in the world. The majority (869) of these sites are cultural with the remainder being either mixed or natural wonders. 

To become a UNESCO site is a difficult process. The UNESCO is a specific body of the united nations that looks at each site that is proposed and votes on what sites should be accepted. If a site is accepted it will receive additional funding and protection from the UN. This badge of approval is often a catalyst for increased tourism to a region so can be highly sought after. The current list of suggestions has some incredible places and most are desperate to be awarded the prestigious status. There is one place however that many locals feel it may be better if it is left unrecognized.

A Japanese island called Okinoshima is currently on the list of potential UNESCO sites. The island is located between Japan and Korea and has held an important place in Japanese culture for over 1,000 years. The island is seen as a shrine to a goddess who protects travelers (mainly fishermen but she will protect drivers too).

The rules on the site are very strict. There is one small building where priests reside. This building is considered sacred but the whole island is too. It is forbidden to take anything from the island. It is forbidden to tell anyone what you did or saw on the island. It is also forbidden for any woman to enter the island.

The first two rules make sense. This location is seen as a shrine to a goddess. Many people over the last 1,000 years have brought priceless treasures in honor of the goddess. Gold treasures are found on the island and they are expected to remain there for the pleasure of the gods. The priests there will not allow anyone to take a single pebble away with them as they believe it is all part of the sacred shrine. 

The rule against women is certainly a little stranger. It is believed this may be because in older times women were viewed as ritually impure. Their monthly menstruation classed them as unclean in some religions and this may be why they were not allowed on the island. Indeed all men had to go through a cleansing process before stepping on the island too.

While a UNESCO classification for the island would help it be protected in the future it may also result in an increased number of tourists and a change in how the island is viewed. Could they really expect people not to tell stories of the island if it suddenly became a must-see location?

Some locals would prefer to see the site left alone and believe that some religious sites deserve a different status to the UNESCO classification as they feel it is very separate from a cultural or natural “attraction”. For anyone traveling it is always worthwhile to look at the UNESCO website before you go. It will list all the sites in each country and provide information about everyone and why it won the award. We are not suggesting you add 1,121 sites to your bucket list but you could certainly add a few.