Okinoshima is a sacred island in the Sea of Japan, shrouded in mystery and strewn with ancient treasures.
For centuries, the island was forbidden to all but about 200 men, who could wade ashore only one day a year after “purifying” themselves, naked, in the freezing sea. Women were banned. Photographs were banned. Even talking about a visit to the island was long verboten.
Then, in July, after a years-long lobbying effort by Japanese officials, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared Okinoshima a World Heritage site, placing it alongside more than 1,000 high-profile attractions, including the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.
The designation alarmed the keepers of Okinoshima’s tradition, and raised questions about how communities keep traditions intact — and secrets secret — in the modern world.