A sacred island and three reefs as well as four other related sites in southwestern Japan were added to UNESCO's World Heritage list Sunday, the international body said.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization decided at a meeting in Krakow, southern Poland, to list the island of Okinoshima and the nearby reefs plus four other sites in Fukuoka Prefecture that a UNESCO preliminary review panel had recommended Japan should drop.

The four sites added to the cultural heritage list in line with Japan's proposal include ancient tombs on the northern tip of Kyushu and the Munakata Taisha Shrine pavilions. Okinoshima is home to Okitsu-Miya Shrine.

In May, the UNESCO preliminary review panel recommended against adding the four sites, saying they do not have sufficient value for the world, but Tokyo persisted with its plan.

Sunday's decision marks the fifth straight year that Japanese assets have been listed, bringing the total number of the country's items on the cultural and natural heritage list to 21.

Okinoshima, midway between Japan's southwestern main island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula, upholds ancient rules restricting entry, including a total ban on women visitors.

Around 80,000 items unearthed on the island have been designated as national treasures, including a gold ring made on the peninsula and cut glass from Persia, now Iran.

The shrine was used to conduct prayer rituals for Japan's exchanges with other Asian regions during the fourth to ninth centuries.

Following the UNESCO preliminary review panel's recommendation against the four sites, Japanese officials explained the interconnectedness of each site to representatives of the countries on the World Heritage Committee, according to the officials.

On Sunday, education minister Hirokazu Matsuno credited Sunday's success to those who lobbied for Japan's stance by speaking to the representatives, saying committee members came to understand that Okinoshima and its related sites convey to the present day a form of worship that has been passed on from ancient times.

Ryohei Miyata, head of Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs, was one of the officials who lobbied for the listing of all the proposed sites at the UNESCO meeting in Krakow.

In his remarks after Sunday's decision, he said he is happy that the assets have been recognized as world treasures, adding that Japan will strive to preserve them for future generations.

Sacred Japanese island added to UNESCO heritage list