Industrial Heritage of Japan
Tomioka Silk Mill (Tomioka, Gunma)
Tomioka Silk Mill (TSM) is a large-scale mill complex which facilitated the first model machine silk-reeling mill built by the Meiji government. It was a pioneer in the modernization of Japanese industry and significantly contributed to the improvement of the silk industry in Japan.
TSM recognized as a very important heritage asset with social, economic, industrial and architectural significance, and showed national and international significance which should be protected and handed down to future generations.
Under these conditions, This TSM silk mill was designated as the World Industrial Heritage by its historical value in 2014
By Rail: “Joshu Tomioka St.” on the Joshin Dentetsu Line.
By Road: About 10 minutes driving from the Tomioka interchange of Joshinetsu Motorway.
Outline of Tomioka Silk Mill (TSM) as a Industrial Heritage
- Tomioka Silk Mill is the first model silk-reeling factory which Japanese government established in 1872.
Color-printed woodprints of the “Tomioka Silk Mill” (1872)
- At that time, the most important Japanese export to the West was raw silk. However, because raw silk was produced by hand, the sufficient quantity of goods couldn’t be produced to meet export demand.
- Then, the government decided to set up a model factory equipped with modern silk-reeling machines from Europe under the guidance of Western engineers in order to enable mass-production of high-quality raw silk, and trained Japanese people in the techniques of machine-reeling and hoped them to be leaders in the silk factories throughout of the country.
- As a result, Japanese silk industries were developed fast and increased the export of silk in the world.
(Source: Tomioka Silk Mill Pamphlet (en))
(1) (2) (3)
(1) “Picture of women workers working at Tomioka Silk Mill”; (2) Printing Logo of Tomioka Mill; (3) In the silk-reeling mill in the early Meiji era;
Contributors of Tomioka Silk Mill
How the Tomioka Mill has been created, and who are contributed to the operation.
The Meiji government commissioned a French man, Paul Brunat, to set up Tomioka Silk Mill. Brunat chose Tomioka for the construction of a mill complex and employed several French engineers and instructors. The silkreeling machines were all imported from France and adopted for Japanese women who are smaller height than French.
Junchu Odaka, a government officer involved in the project from the outset, played an important role in selecting a suitable location for building the mill complex and in arranging the supply of building materials. Later, he became the first head manager of Tomioka Silk Mill.
Ms Ei Wada, a daughter of a samurai, wrote her memoirs of the life of a factory girl at Tomioka Silk Mill. Later, she went back to her home town for leading reeling technology at the Saijo Reeling factory in 1984.
(Source: Tomioka Silk Mill Home Page and its Pamphlet)
Significance of Tomioka Silk Mill and its Complex
The Value of Tomioka Silk Mill and other facilities recognized by UNESCO as the World Industrial Heritage. The Tomioka’s silk contributed much to develop the modern manufacturing silk technologies in the world, not only in Japan.
Function of Tomioka Silk Mill
1.- A factory established by the national government that remains as a complete ensemble together with manufacturing facilities
2.- The first full-scale raw silk factory introducing mechanical-reeling technology from France
3.- Became a model factory for advanced silk-reeling in Japan and raised the country’s industry to the world’s top level
4.- Place for development and dissemination of improved species of silkworms
5.- Early examples of factory architecture merging Western technology with traditional Japanese technology
Afterward of TSM Government Model Factory
General Trend of Silk Production and Export
Tomioka Silk Mill has been evolving even under the privatization in 1900 and still shared the leading role of silk industries even after the world war II until 1980s.
Brief History of Tomioka Mill under the privatized management
- In 1880, the Meiji government decided to sell off all state industries to the private sector and in 1893 Tomioka Silk Mill was sold to the Mitsui conglomerate.
- In 1902 it was transferred to the Hara Partnership. During the time of Hara’s management, the improved reeling-machines were introduced and high-quality raw silk was produced in large quantities. They also undertook research into the breeding of silkworms in order to improve the quality of raw silk.
- In 1939, Tomioka Silk Mill merged with the Katakura Silk-reeling and Spinning Co. Ltd., which at that time was the largest manufacturing company of raw silk in Japan, after that, automatic silk-reeling machines were introduced.
- During and after World War Ⅱ, the mill was a leading manufacturer of raw silk in Japan.
- However, it finally ceased production in March 1987 as a result of competition from cheaper raw silk imported from other Asian countries.
Current Figures of Tomioka Silk Mill
Tomioka Mill has stopped operation, but after the designation of UNESCO’s World Heritage status many visitors are visiting there and appreciated the facilities as a memorable historical site.