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Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region

Sacred Island of Okinoshima and Associated Sites in the Munakata Region

Located 60 km off the western coast of Kyushu island, the island of Okinoshima is an exceptional example of the tradition of worship of a sacred island. The archaeological sites that have been preserved on the island are virtually intact, and provide a chronological record of how the rituals performed there changed from the 4th to the 9th centuries AD. In these rituals, votive objects were deposited as offerings at different sites on the island. Many of them are of exquisite workmanship and had been brought from overseas, providing evidence of intense exchanges between the Japanese archipelago, the Korean Peninsula and the Asian continent. Integrated within the Grand Shrine of Munakata, the island of Okinoshima is considered sacred to this day.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Île sacrée d’Okinoshima et sites associés dans la région de Munakata

Située à 60 km de la côte ouest de l’île de Kyushu, l’île d’Okinoshima est un exemple exceptionnel de la tradition de culte rendu à une île sacrée. Les sites archéologiques qui ont été préservés sur l’île sont pratiquement intacts et offrent une image chronologique de la manière dont les rituels pratiqués ont évolué du IVe au IXe siècle de notre ère. Au cours de ces rituels, des objets votifs étaient déposés comme offrandes en différents points de l’île. Beaucoup d’entre eux sont d’une exécution raffinée et viennent d’au-delà des mers, témoignant des échanges intenses entre l’archipel japonais, la péninsule coréenne et le continent asiatique. Intégrée dans le grand sanctuaire de Munakata, l’île d’Okinoshima est toujours considérée comme sacrée.

Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Isla sagrada de Okinoshima y sitios asociados de la región de Munakata
Situado a unos 60 km de la costa occidental de la isla de Kyushu, el sitio de Okinoshima es un ejemplo excepcional de la práctica ancestral de venerar islas consideradas sagradas. Los vestigios arqueológicos de esta pequeña isla se han conservado prácticamente intactos y ofrecen una visión cronológica de la evolución de los ritos religiosos practicados en ella desde el siglo IV al IX de nuestra era. Durante las ceremonias celebradas, se depositaban en ofrenda objetos votivos en distintos parajes de la isla. La primorosa ejecución de muchos de esos objetos y su procedencia ultramarina atestiguan la existencia de intercambios intensos entre el archipiélago japonés, la península coreana y el continente asiático. Perteneciente al gran santuario de Munakata, la isla de Okinoshima se sigue considerando sagrada.

source: UNESCO/CPE
Description is available under license CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0

Het heilige eiland Okinoshima en de geassocieerde sites in de Munakata regio

Het eiland Okinoshima ligt zo'n 60 kilometer van de westkust van het eiland Kyushu en is een uitstekend voorbeeld van de traditie van aanbidding van een heilig eiland. De archeologische sites die op het eiland zijn bewaard zijn vrijwel intact en leveren een chronologisch overzicht van de rituelen die op het eiland werden uitgevoerd van de vierde tot de negende eeuw na Christus. Tijdens deze rituelen werden offergaven op diverse plaatsen op het eiland achtergelaten. Veel objecten zijn met buitengewoon vakmanschap vervaardigd en kwamen van overzee. Ze getuigen van de intensieve relaties die het Japanse eilandenrijk onderhield met het Koreaanse schiereiland en het Aziatische continent. Het eiland van Okinoshima is een integraal onderdeel van het grote heiligdom van Munakata en wordt nog altijd als heilig beschouwd.

Source: unesco.nl

Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis

Located 60 km off the north-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 and safeguarded by people of the Munakata region. 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 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, the worship of the Island continued in 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. 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. Continuing research on the three islands and on the maritime routes within Japan and its neighbouring countries will sustain the full expression of the authenticity of the property.

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. Mechanisms to integrate a Heritage Impact Assessment approach into the management system will strengthen its effectiveness. 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.