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World Heritage Convention

Decision 41 COM 8B.19
Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region (Japan)

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Documents WHC/17/41.COM/8B and WHC/17/41.COM/INF.8B1,
  2. Inscribes the Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region, Japan, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (ii) and (iii);
  3. Takes note of the following provisional Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

    Brief synthesis

    Located 60 km off the western coast of Kyushu Island, the Island of Okinoshima is an exceptional repository of records of early ritual sites, bearing witness to early worship practices associated with maritime safety, which emerged in the 4th century AD and continued until the end of the 9th century AD, at a time of intense exchanges between the polities in the Japanese Archipelago, in the Korean Peninsula, and on the Asian continent. Incorporated into the Munakata Grand Shrine (Munakata Taisha), the Island of Okinoshima continued to be regarded as sacred in the following centuries up until today.

    The entirety of the Island of Okinoshima, with its geomorphological features, the ritual sites with the rich archaeological deposits, and the wealth of votive offerings, in their original distribution, credibly reflect 500 years of ritual practices held on the Island; the primeval forest, the attendant islets of Koyajima, Mikadobashira and Tenguiwa, along with the documented votive practices and the taboos associated with the Island, the open views from Kyushu and Oshima towards the Island, altogether credibly reflect that the worship of the Island, although changed in its practices and meanings over the centuries, due to external exchanges and indigenisation, has retained the sacred status of Okinoshima.

    Munakata Taisha is a shrine that consists of three distinct worship sites – Okitsu-miya on Okinoshima, Nakatsu-miya on Oshima, and Hetsu-miya on the main island of Kyushu, all of which are located within an area that measures some 60 kilometers in breadth. These are the living places of worship that are linked to ancient ritual sites. The form of worshipping the Three Female Deities of Munakata has been passed down to the present day in rituals conducted mainly at the shrine buildings. Okitsu-miya Yohaisho, built on the northern shore of Oshima, has functioned as a hall for worshipping the sacred island from afar. The Shimbaru-Nuyama Mounded Tomb Group, located on a plateau overlooking the sea that stretches out towards Okinoshima, is composed of both large and small burial mounds, bearing witness to the lives of members of the Munakata clan, who nurtured a tradition of worshipping Okinoshima.

    Criterion (ii): The Sacred Island of Okinoshima Island exhibits important interchanges and exchanges amongst the different polities in East Asia between the 4th and the 9th centuries, which is evident from the abundant finds and objects with a variety of origins deposited at sites on the Island where rituals for safe navigation were performed. The changes, in object distribution and site organisation, attest to the changes in rituals, which in turn reflect the nature of the process of dynamic exchanges that took place in those centuries, when polities based on the Asian mainland, the Korean Peninsula and the Japanese Archipelago, were developing a sense of identity and that substantially contributed to the formation of Japanese culture.

    Criterion (iii): The Sacred Island of Okinoshima is an exceptional example of the cultural tradition of worshipping a sacred island, as it has evolved and been passed down from ancient times to the present. Remarkably, archaeological sites that have been preserved on the Island are virtually intact, and provide a chronological record of how the rituals performed there changed over a period of some five hundred years, from the latter half of the 4th to the end of the 9th centuries. In these rituals, vast quantities of precious votive objects were deposited as offerings at different sites on the Island, attesting to changes in rituals. While direct offerings on Okinoshima Island ceased in the 9th century AD, members of the Munakata clan played an instrumental role in establishing and safeguarding the worship of the Islandin the form of worshipping the Three Female Deities of Munakata at three distinct worship sites of Munakata Taisha – Okitsu-miya on Okinoshima, Nakatsu-miya on Oshima, and Hetsu-miya, along with “distant worship” exemplified by the open views from Oshima and the main island of Kyushu toward Okinoshima.


    The sacred Island of Okinoshima, with the other seven components, comprise all attributes necessary to illustrate the values and processes expressing its Outstanding Universal Value. The property ensures the complete representation of the features illustrating the property as a testimony to a worshipping tradition of a sacred Island for safe navigation, emerging in a period of intense maritime exchanges and continuing in the form of worshipping the Three Female Deities of Munakata established by members of the Munakata clan. This has passed down to this day, through changes in ritual practices and meanings but whilst still retaining the sacred status of Okinoshima. The property is in good condition; it does not suffer from neglect and is properly managed, although careful consideration of potential impacts from off-shore infrastructure and increased cruise ship traffic is needed.


    A substantial body of archaeological investigation and research on the Island of Okinoshima bears credible witness to the Outstanding Universal Value of the property; the unchanged location of the ritual sites, their distribution, and the still-abundant undisturbed deposits of votive offerings provide opportunities for future research and increased understanding of the values of the property. Existing restrictions and taboos contribute to maintaining the aura of the island as a sacred place.

    Protection and management requirements

    The property enjoys legal protection at the national level under several laws, designations and planning instruments; protection is also guaranteed by traditional practices, in the form of restriction of use and taboos that have proven effective over time until the present day.

    The management system envisages an overarching management body, the Preservation and Utilization Council, which includes the representatives of Munakata City and Fukutsu City and Fukuoka Prefecture. The Council is tasked with coordination of and responsibility for the implementation of the “Preservation and Management Plan”, which incorporates four individual management plans covering different parts of the property as well as the buffer zone. To ensure full coordination and implementation of the management tasks, the owners of the property need to be involved in the Council; the representatives of the residents in the buffer zone and of the local businesses will coordinate and collaborate with the Preservation and Utilization Council. The National Agency for Cultural Affairs provides guidance and advice as well as an ad-hoc Advisory Committee. Minor repairs and everyday maintenance are carried out by craftsmen from the local community, using methods passed down from generation to generation.

  4. Recommends that the State Party gives consideration to the following:
    1. Establishing the Preservation and Utilization Council and including within it representatives of the owners of the property,
    2. Clarifying the role of the other stakeholders and the mechanisms to ensure their effective cooperation in managing the property,
    3. Stating that the construction of wind turbines, offshore or on land, will not only be “appropriately restricted” but will be totally forbidden within the entire property limits, including the buffer zone, as well as in areas outside the property where it would affect the visual integrity of the components,
    4. Setting up mechanisms to integrate a Heritage Impact Assessment (HIA) approach into the management system,
    5. Developing specific HIAs for planned projects that may impact on the Outstanding Universal Value and the attributes of the property, and submitting their results to the World Heritage Committee and ICOMOS for review before any final decision is taken with regard to their approval and implementation,
    6. Confirming that the limit at the top of the mountain marking the south-eastern corner of the buffer zone incorporates entirely the summit,
    7. Giving due consideration to the potential threats by increased unregulated visitation and cruise ships,
    8. Continuing and expanding research programmes on maritime exchanges, navigation and related cultural and ritual practices within the State Party and its neighbouring countries.
Decision Code
41 COM 8B.19
Inscriptions on the World Heritage List
States Parties 1
Decisions adopted during the 41st session of the World Heritage Committee (Krakow, 2017)
Context of Decision