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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Tomioka Silk Mill

Tomioka Silk Mill
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The Tomioka Silk Mill is an early industrial complex that shows the spreading of Western techologies during Japan's Meiji period.

The mill was established in 1872, and it was dedicated to the production of raw silk. This nomination also symbolizes Japan's entry to the modern industrialised world. Production at the mill ceased in 1987.

Soon after the Meiji Restoration in the late 19th Century, the Japanese Government hastened the modernization of Japan to catch up with European countries. Japanese raw silk was the most important export and sustained the growth of Japan's economy at that time. However, it was hard to keep up with the quality. With assistence from Lyon (France), the leading centre for industrialised silk production at the time, a modern facility was built with the most sophisticated machinery.

This is a serial nomination of 4 sites, which show different stages in the production of raw silk :

- Raw silk mill

- Silkworm farms

- Sericulture school

- storage facility for silkworm eggs

Map of Tomioka Silk Mill

Legend

  • Cultural

Community Reviews


Alexander Barabanov Russia 12.06.17

Tomioka Silk Mill by Alexander Barabanov

Visited this site in May 2017 as a pleasant detour from Tokyo (and using some private railway line not subject to the wonderful Japan Rail Pass).

The cost was 1,000 yen entrance + 200 yen audioguide and 200 yen conservation viewing desk.

The mill was completed in 1872 after local government decided to import mechanized Western technologies of silk processing. Technical advisers from France were invited, while trainees were hired from local female workers. Other factories using Tomioka mill model were constructed around the country afterwards. Introduction of mass production technologies led to modernization of Japanese economy.

The mill have been producing raw silk till 1987 when all the reeling machines were preserved in the original state.

In overall I liked the whole cluster of buildings, which are interesting mix of colonial style constructions and Japanese traditional design features. Many industrial architectural innovations already known in Europe were first introduced in Japan in this mill.

I was lucky to visit on Sunday, when there are various workshops and exhibitions involving demonstrations of how the silk was gathered from the cocoons, very interesting process.

The funniest fact about the mill: young female Japanese workers were reluctant to work at the mill, because there were rumours that the French were drinking ... blood!!! All this was because the locals saw French drinking wine, something they never saw before.

For me the site deserves its status due to unique combination of industrial cooperation at its very beginning, good preservation level and outstanding example of vertically integrated production of silk.


Frederik Dawson Netherlands 28.03.12

Tomioka Silk Mill by Frederik Dawson

Since the industrial heritage is one of the most underrepresented categories of Asian World Heritage Sites, Japan has started to propose its industrial heritages to fill the gap, Tomioka Silk Mill (Tomioka Seishijou), the first state owned western-styled factory. Almost unknown to foreigners, the factory has been a landmark of Gunma Prefecture since the silk mill is quite famous among Japanese especially in school history class. As part of my 2012 Japan trip, I took the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Takasaki and then the private Joshin Line to Tomioka. From the train station, there was a color line on the road show direction to the mill, the same system use in many hospitals! After walked for about 15 minutes, I was at the entrance of the complex of large long brick building. The building turned out to be the eastern cocoon storage, inside there was small exhibition of how to make silk, sadly that there was no English at all. Then I went to see the twin western cocoon storage which was closed for renovation. These two storages were quite the highlight of the mill as they were considered to be the first brick factory building of Japan, the building was done by French and the roof by the Japanese, so it was quite interesting to see the European brick building topped with Japanese tiled roof.

After the storage complex, I went to the silk reeling machine hall, the machine were wrapped by dusty plastic sheet, the very surprising and uninspiring way to preserve the machine. After that I walked around the complex to see dormitories and offices building which mostly built in western styled wooden houses as well as nice river side area. Tomioka Silk Mill was a fine place, but nothing special in my idea. The significance of Tomioka seemed to be its status as the first western style factory in Japan and maybe in Far East and as the showcase of country development as well as the story of its workers. Workers of Tomioka were mainly women who worked 7.45 hours a day 6 days a week, an important chapter of Asian female labor history and welfare development. No surprise that the cartoon image of a female worker, Otomi-chan, has been used as a mascot to promote the World Heritage Site nomination. To become a World Heritage Site, there were support posters and stickers everywhere in town, even on some cars. The complex was also under restoration and refurbishment to prepare the UNESCO registration; however, in my idea Tomioka need to do something more to explain the site and its outstanding value. The display was a big problem, the plastic wrap in the machine hall need to be put away, and more English explanation signs. This site has great potential, but a long way to go.

In 2014, Tomioka Silk Mill finally has become UNESCO World Heritage Site for its historical importance on Japanese and Asian silk industry. From many news sources there are many development after my visit, especially new modern train station building to welcome an influx of tourists and new traffic control in city center. Since I am not a great fan of Industrial World Heritage Site, most of them are not beautiful nor is appealing to visit, and unfortunately Tomioka Silk Mill is not different from other industrial heritage sites. However I really interesting what will happen with Tomioka as I always impressed how the Japanese develop their tourism marketing. Iwami Ginzan is a very good example of their clever to get tourists' money even mining which is probably one of the most uninspiring sites and lacking of marketing resources. With its easier money generating silk and mulberry theme souvenirs, Tomioka's tourism chance is the thing that I will look for if I have a chance to go back, maybe new kinds of mulberry rice cakes or DIY weaving silk kit!


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Site Info

Full name: Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites

Unesco ID: 1449

Inscribed: 2014

Type: Cultural

Criteria: 2   4  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2014 - Inscribed 

Locations

The site has 4 locations.

  • Tomioka Silk Mill: Arafune Cold Storage
  • Tomioka Silk Mill: Tajima Yahei Sericulture Farm
  • Tomioka Silk Mill: Takayama-sha Sericulture School
  • Tomioka Silk Mill

Connections

The site has 3 connections.

Human Activity

WHS Hotspots