Visiting Tomioka Silk Mill the legacy of Meiji era which was recently designated as a World Heritage Site

This is the blog of a short trip to “Tomioka Silk Mill” in Gunma prefecture which was newly designated as World Heritage Site in 2014. In this article, we are showing a story in details of its history, its background and also about manufacturing.

Tomioka Silk Mill (富岡製糸場) was newly registered as a World Heritage Site in 2014 which locate in Gunma prefecture. Gunma prefecture is about 1~ 2 hours north of Tokyo by Shinkansen (bullet train) where is famous for Kusatsu Onsen (hotspring) and Ikaho Onsen.

Today, I was at Tomioka Silk Mill in Gunma prefecture, so excited!

Tomioka Silk Mill is a small legacy of the World Heritage with a full memory of the Meiji Restoration

Do you know the time of Meiji Restoration in Japanese history?

In early 17th sentry at the time of Edo period, Japan had been closed the country for about 250 years, so there were no exchanges or trades between abroad. Because of that, unique Japanese cultures developed and flourished a lot but on the other hand Japan was completely left behind from the world.

Later, in late 19th century, Japan opened the country to abroad and adapted Western culture avariciously tried to catch up its modernization as much as possible. In those days, Silk industry was one of important exports for Japan although because of the poor quality and the lack of technology the business was not very good. So, Japanese government innovated a silk factory to improve its quality with the possibility of a mass production as their encouragement of national policy.

After then, the Meiji government commissioned 10 consultants from France including the leader Paul Brunat and built the factory. This was how Tomioka Silk Mill began.

http://www.tomioka-silk.jp/hp../index.html(富岡市立美術博物館蔵)

Tomioka Silk Mill was the very beginning of the industrialization of Japan.

How to get to Tomioka Silk Mill(富岡製糸場)

Tomioka Silk Mill is located in about 15 minutes walk from “Joshu Tomioka Sta.(上州富岡駅)”. On the way to the spot, there are a lot of souvenir shops along the streets, so it’s quite fun and it won’t feel long to get there. The popular souvenirs are Silkworm chocolate (of course, only the shape) and silk soup.

Let’s see what inside Tomioka Silk Mill!

Here is the entrance.

The actual factory is quite huge but we’re allowed to see only the displayed area. See the map below in purple, that’s the area we’re able to visit.

The admission fee is ¥1000 per person. There are audio guides available in English, Chinese, Korean and French so I recommend take them with you! If you have a smart phone, you can add it for free but if you’re going to rent a machine, it’ll cost you ¥200.

One of the largest French style cocoon storage in the world

The brick building which you’ll see right away when you entered is cocoon storage.

There are many windows to make sure well ventilated to dry cocoons.

The building was made of bricks which they built the wooden frameworks first then piled up the bricks between wooden posts. The structures and constructions are all French style.

The Dormitory for French male engineers(検査人館)

This is the dormitory for the engineers who were in charge of examination and quality controls of the raw silk. The second floor used to be the guest rooms where the first president of Japanese governor and successive emperor has staid. Unfortunately it’s not open to the public right now.

Dormitory for French female Instructors(女工館)

Here you can only see from the outside. It was the dormitory for French female instructors.

How come they need instructors in the factory?
Well, this place was not only the silk factory it was the role model for the whole new Japanese silk factory. That’s why there was the dormitory for the selected woman who came to study how to make a silk from all over Japan. They stayed there and study hard every day.

Let’s see inside Tomioka Silk Mill

This is the outside building of silk reeling factory where you make strings from cocoons! Surprisingly it’s 140m long.

When you go inside the factory, you’ll feel the length.

It was the largest silk mill in the world with 300 silk reeling machines in it, at the time the factory was built.

Later, the machine was automated due to the development of technologies. The machines what you can see at the factory now are all the automated machines.

You can see the sign of the old days.

The boiled cocoons are delivered by this conveyor belt.

There is an audio cinema room in the factory where you can watch a documentary film about the history of the factory and silk making. It was really interesting so I strongly recommend you to watch.

There were a clinic and dormitories inside the territory

There was also a clinic in the territory.

This is the house of French instructor Paul Brunat. His annual income was equivalent to 50 million yen in the present.

This was the dormitory of the mill girls. The working conditions in general was quite hard those days but here, they worked 8 hours a day all including 3 meals and accommodations and the salary was about 10000~20000 yen per month. It was a great condition.

That’s all about Tomioka Silk Mill.

Unfortunately we’re not able to see all inside the building as most of the buildings are wooden structures, therefore it is hard to preserve them well. Someone might have huge expectation as it is the World Heritage Site and what you can see inside is so little… ( I actually red some of the reviews from TrioAdvisor says like that…)

However, walking through the huge property, the legacy of the Meigi Restoration with listing to the guidance of its history, I’ve enjoyed a lot and learned how Japan has changed and developed. I really recommend visiting here maybe after Ikaho Onsen or any other places wherever you came nearby!

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Written by y_a_j_i

This is Yaji that was born in Nagano and living Tokyo now. I love drinking, especially Japanese sake and Japanese tapas. I will introduce many great restaurants and bars all over Tokyo!

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