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Photo By: www.okinoshima-heritage.jp

Munakata Taisha and the Forbidden Island of Okinoshima

One of the oldest and most sacred shrines in Japan.

Munakata Taisha is a trio of historic Shinto shrines in southern Fukuoka Prefecture. Together, the shrines are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Three sites of worship

Hetsumiya Munakata Taisha in Fukuoka

Photo by: IMAKI Hidekazu Hetsumiya Shrine is the most accessible of the Munakata Taisha.

They are located in three different places of worship. The main shrine, Hetsumiya, is on Fukuoka’s mainland. Nakatsumiya Shrine is on Oshima, an island off of Fukuoka’s coast. The inaccessible Okitsumiya Shrine is on the “forbidden” island of Okinoshima, 50 kilometers from the shore. Hetsumiya and Nakatsumiya are open to sightseers and are commonly visited by locals for prayer for safety during travel and driving.

A Shinto goddess is enshrined at each—three sisters that are said to protect mariners fairing the Genkai Sea. In modern times, the legend of the goddesses has extended to all travelers.

Okitsumiya Shrine on Okinoshima is the holiest of the three. However, the tiny island is off-limits to all visitors except Shinto priests. Women are banned from visiting the island and the land itself is considered a kami (god). It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site after more than 80,000 relics were discovered on the island. The artifacts date back to the 7th or 8th centuries and link trade with the whole of Asia.

The Autumn Miare Festival

Munakata Taisha Miare Festival Fukuoka

Photo by: IMAKI Hidekazu Boats carrying the mikoshi for the Miare Festival.

October 1 is the Miare Autumn Festival, where people pray to the three shrines for a good harvest. It begins at Nakatsumiya Shrine, goes on to Okitsumiya, and ends at Hetsumiya. Three hundred fishing boats surround a central ship that contains the mikoshi, or portable shrine, that transports the three goddesses to the mainland.

Hetsumiya and Nakatsumiya make fantastic day trips from Fukuoka. But if you prefer to visit just one, Hetsumiya has replica shrines that represent Okitsumiya and Nakatsumiya. It’s your chance to discover the fascinating sacred sites of Munakata Taisha.

Find more information about Netsumiya and Nakatsumiya Shrines below!