Japan's Sacred, Men-Only Island is Up For UNESCO World Heritage Status

Okinoshima, Munakata, Fukuoka, Japan
Okinoshima, Munakata, Fukuoka, Japan
National Land Image Information (Color Aerial Photographs), Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism

Visit Okinoshima—a speck of land off the coast of Kyushu, Japan's third largest island—and you’ll see no female faces. Only men are allowed to visit the island, which is home to a sacred religious shrine honoring a goddess of the sea. As BBC News reports, this men-only island is now up for UNESCO World Heritage status, along with four other culturally significant sites in Japan.

Long ago, between the 4th and 9th centuries, sailors conducted rites at the shrine to ensure that their ships remained safe at sea. The island was also the site of numerous cultural exchanges between the Japanese and people of the Korean Peninsula. Artifacts unearthed on the island have included glass cup fragments believed to be from Persia, gold rings from the Korean Peninsula, and other treasures, according to The Telegraph.

Nobody quite knows why women aren’t allowed on Okinoshima, but we do know that the rule dates back to ancient times. Multiple theories exist, including that it was too dangerous for childbearing women to travel from the mainland, or that female pilgrims were considered "impure" because they menstruated.

Male visitors have their own set of guidelines to follow: Once they've arrived on Okinoshima, they're required to take off their clothing and perform a cleansing ritual. They're also not allowed to take any items home—big or small—from the island, or talk about their trip once they've returned home.

This codified set of instructions isn’t exactly conducive to tourism, which will surely grow if Okinoshima ends up being registered on the World Heritage list. Religious officials say they’ll deal with any issues as they arise, but that they’re not making any exceptions for women visitors. (That said, we know of a UNESCO-recognized matriarchal island off the coast of Estonia that will welcome them with open arms.)

[h/t BBC News]

Australian Accounting Firm Offers Employees 12 Weeks of ‘Life Leave’ to Strike the Perfect Work-Life Balance

iStock.com/karenfoleyphotography
iStock.com/karenfoleyphotography

What would you do if you could take a three-month vacation each year? Would you book a flight to Hawaii, catch up on your favorite Netflix shows, or simply spend some quality time with your partner, kids, or dogs? The employees at one Australian accounting firm undoubtedly have a few ideas about how to spend the six to 12 weeks of “life leave” they will soon be granted.

As Travel + Leisure reports, Ernst & Young Oceania decided to introduce more flexible work hours in an attempt to attract and retain top talent. “We’re innovating so we don’t lose these people while they pursue passions outside of work,” company official Kate Hillman told The Independent. Hillman went on to cite volunteer experiences, training programs, and even a trekking trip to Nepal as different ways that employees might take advantage of the new policy, which goes into effect April 1.

Employees can either use their leave all at once or split it into two smaller vacations. The only catch is that the leave is self-funded—so it’s essentially an unpaid vacation. Still, if someone has the burning desire to backpack through Europe for a couple of months, or work on a project, it’s a safer option than quitting their job only to return unemployed and broke.

In addition to this policy, employees can choose to reduce their hours to a part-time schedule for up to three months each year. Parents may also choose to take advantage of a term-time arrangement, which lets them work regular hours when school is in session, then take time off during school holidays.

According to the firm’s research, flexibility at work boosts employee engagement by 11 percent. There are plenty of other reasons to take a vacation, too—not the least of which is evidence that time off may help you lead a longer, healthier, and happier life. Plus, you’ll come back refreshed and motivated, so your boss will be happy, too.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

The World's 10 Most Expensive Cities

An apartment complex in Hong Kong
An apartment complex in Hong Kong
iStock.com/Nikada

If you think San Francisco is pricey, you should see some of the other metropolises that appear in a new ranking of the 10 most expensive cities in the world. As The Real Deal reports, Singapore, Paris, and Hong Kong have been jointly named as the three cities with the highest cost of living in a new analysis by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).

It was the first time in the history of the Intelligence Unit’s Worldwide Cost of Living report that three cities have tied for first place. Billing itself as a global business intelligence group, the EIU takes the prices of more than 400 items into consideration for its annual list, including food, clothing, household supplies, private school fees, and recreation.

Singapore's appearance on the list is no surprise, considering that it has been crowned the world’s most expensive city for the past five years in a row, and Paris has consistently made the top 10 since 2003. Hong Kong, meanwhile, rose three places in the newest ranking, while Osaka, Japan rose six places.

New York City and Los Angeles also made the top 10 list this year, tying with other cities for fourth and fifth place, respectively. This is partly due to exchange rates.

“A stronger U.S. dollar last year has meant that cities in the U.S. generally became more expensive globally, especially relative to last year’s ranking,” the report notes. “New York has moved up six places in the ranking this year, while Los Angeles has moved up four spots.”

Check out the 10 most expensive cities below, and visit the EIU’s website to download a full copy of the report.

  1. Singapore; Hong Kong; and Paris, france (tied)

  1. Zurich, Switzerland

  1. Geneva, Switzerland; and Osaka, Japan (tied)

  1. Seoul, South Korea; Copenhagen, Denmark; and New York City (tied)

  1. Tel Aviv, Israel and Los Angeles (tied)

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