The Tomioka Silk Mill

The Tomioka Silk Mill

Japan opened up to the world in the late Edo period (1853), however silkworm-raising and silk filatures flourished throughout the Edo period (1600 – 1868).  The new government decided to build a model factory equipped with state-of-the-art silk-reeling machinery to produce high-quality raw silk with better production efficiency as well as to train skilled engineers.  A group of architects, engineers, and business people were hired.  Paul Brunat, a French engineer, was among them, and he led this big project.  The factory walls were built by bricks and woods, a unique feature that made them last to this day.

The mill continuously operated for 115 years.  Since it has been maintained well, the mill remains its original state even now.  Today, many activities are underway to add the Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Industrial Heritage to a list of nominees for UNESCO World Heritage registration.

Five reasons the Meiji Government chose Tomioka to construct a model silk mill:

  1. 1. Silkworm-raising was flourishing in the area, ensuring sufficient cocoon supply.
  2. 2. Tomioka was able to provide a vast area necessary for construction of the silk mill.
  3. 3. Tomioka was able to secure an abundant supply of water necessary for filature.
  4. 4. They used coal to run the silk mill, and there was a coal-mining town of Takasaki-Yoshii nearby.
  5. 5. Local people consented to have foreign engineers lead the construction of the mill.

False rumor made the hiring difficult initially.
Back in 1870’s, when the local people saw French engineers drink wines, they thought they were drinking a glass of sucked blood as the locals have never seen wines before. Soon after, a false rumor was circulated that they suck blood inside the mill. As a result, nobody applied for the factory jobs when they were first offered.

Excellent working conditions:
Most girls were of junior and senior high-school student age. They had all sorts of rules to obey, both in the middle of and after work. In particular, a very tight security was implemented. They were under strict surveillance going out of and coming back to the mill. Visitors from outside were also closely monitored. Here are two of such examples: 1) Tally was distributed to relatives of factory girls. Male visitors, even if they were fathers or brothers, had to present the tally to meet their daughters or sisters. 2) Because all factory girls were live-in, hairdressers, Japanese kimono tailors, and merchants of small articles were invited every now and then. They had to be female and licensed. Nice employee welfare system was put in place. Factory girls’ job came with room and board, and free medical care was provided.

Local specialties to take home:
Japanese-style cake baked in the shape of a cocoon called, “Mayukomori” and retort curry. (Factory girls are said to have loved curry.)

By train: At JR Takasaki Station, change to Joshin Dentetsu and get off at Joshu-Tomioka (30 min.) and it's a 10-minute walk from the station.
By car: Approx. 5 minutes (3km) from Tomioka Exit of Joshinetsu Expressway
Parking: Miyamotocho & Uemachi Parking Lots are 100 yen for every 30 minutes (Free for the first 30 minutes). For more information about parking, please visit the following URL addresses.


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