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Okinoshima Island and Related Sites in Munakata Region

Date of Submission: 05/01/2009
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of Japan to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Fukuoka Prefecture
Coordinates: N34 14 39 E130 06 20
Ref.: 5400
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

This property comprises two important parts: one is Okinoshima, an island off the northwestern coast of Kyûshû, where from the fourth to the tenth centuries national religious rituals were conducted to supplicate the gods for the safety of the oceangoing vessels that served as Japan's link to the East Asian mainland, and the other is archaeological sites related to the powerful Munakata clan, local rulers in ancient times who were also involved in priestly and ritual functions. It possesses outstanding universal value as a property where the original forms of Japan's unique nature worship directed towards islands has been preserved, and where the rituals associated with it have continued down to the present day.

Specifically, "Okinoshima Island and Related Sites in Munakata Region" is made up of the isolated island of Okinoshima which floats in the rich natural environment of the Genkai Sea and is one of East Asia's greatest ritual sites, the Tsuyazaki tumulus complex which is burial ground of the Munakata clan that presided over the rituals associated with Okinoshima, and the precincts and buildings of the Munakata Grand Shrine where the religious heritage of Okinoshima has been passed down to the present.

For about six hundred years, beginning in the mid-fourth century, rituals were continued without interruption. Archaeological surveys have thus far identified twenty-three sites with the remains of ritual structures, and discovered a transition from clifftop ritual sites to sites in caves or beneath rocky outcroppings, and then into the open air. Some 80,000 artifacts used as ritual offerings have been discovered, including as gold rings and openwork metal equestrian ornaments manufactured in the Korean kingdom of Silla and fragments of a cut glass vessel from as far away as the Middle East.

These rituals at Okinoshima were presided over by the Munakata clan, who ruled the fisherfolk of the region from a stronghold in what is now the city of Munakata, and whose burial ground is believed to be the Tsuyazaki tumulus complex. Among these tumuli is the Miyajidake Kofun, from which equestrian ornaments and a crown that have been designated National Treasures were excavated.

Some time after this, the form of the earliest shrines began to be established with the founding of the shrines of Okitsu no Miya (on the Okinoshima Island), Nakatsu no Miya (on the Ôshima Island), and Hetsu no Miya (on the main island of Kyûshû). The ancient rituals on Okinoshima came to an end with the cessation of the Japanese embassies to Tang China at the end of the ninth century, but the beliefs associated with Okinoshima continue to serve as a spiritual support for seafarers in the Genkai Sea into the early modern period and beyond, which have been passed down to the present day.

Thus, beginning with the unique rituals conducted in ancient times to pray for the safety of vessels and the success of Japan's diplomatic missions over the seas to the Asian mainland, Okinoshima is an exceptional example in the world of a site preserving in good condition to the present day the forms of worship and faith directed toward an isolated island believed to be a place where gods descended to live in this world.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

"Okinoshima and Related Sites in Munakata" is a group of sites centered upon Okinoshima, sometimes known as the "Shôsôin of the Seas" (likening it to the famous imperial treasurehouse in Nara), which also includes the Tsuyazaki tumulus complex, burial ground of the Munakata clan that presided over the rituals associated with Okinoshima, and the precincts and buildings of the Munakata Grand Shrine.

The property possesses outstanding universal value because it is suggestive of the interchange of important human values with other parts of East Asia, using ocean travel that Japan of necessity undertook as an island nation; while at the same time it is indicative of the process by which the uniquely Japanese polytheistic form of worship, Shintoism was established and developed, and how its essence has been passed down to contemporary times.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Archaeological surveys have established that the ritual sites on Okinoshima have been preserved in excellent condition. As for the related tumulus cluster, both archaeological and documentary research have elucidated its history and its relationship to the Munakata clan, so its authenticity has been amply maintained.

Moreover, as all the elements associated with ritual practice and belief related to Okinoshima-the ritual sites on the island itself, the related tumulus cluster, and precincts and buildings of the Munakata Grand Shrine-have been preserved in good condition, the integrity of the property as a whole has definitely been maintained.

Comparison with other similar properties

Comparable World Heritage properties are Skellig Michael (Ireland, inscribed 1996), Delos (Greece, inscribed 1990), and Itsukushima Shinto Shrine (Japan, inscribed 1996). Yet in comparison with these properties, only "Okinoshima Island and Related Sites in Munakata Region" is the unique and exceptional example that fulfills all of the following characteristics: (1) being an island property, (2) being a site associated with sea voyages, (3) continuity of ritual practice, (4) reverence for nature, and (5) the existence of related facilities within the property.