[World Heritage Site: Tomioka Silk Mill]
The Tomioka Silk Mill and Silk Industry Heritage Group is a designated World Heritage Site situated in Gunma Prefecture within the Kanto region. It's conveniently located less than 2 hours away from Tokyo via the expressway. As you stroll down a narrow alley adorned with sweet shops and souvenir stores, you'll notice a retro red mailbox, which serves as the landmark for the Tomioka Silk Mill. This site has earned recognition as a national treasure and important cultural property. Notably, in 2014, it became Japan's first modern industrial heritage site to be registered as a World Cultural Heritage Site.
The Tomioka Silk Mill was established in 1872 (Meiji 5) as a government-operated model factory, introducing French technology. Tomioka was carefully chosen as the site for this new silk mill based on a survey conducted by French engineers. They deemed Tomioka to be the ideal location to centralize Japan's silk mill industry due to thriving sericulture, abundant cocoon resources, ample land with no objections, a sustainable water supply, access to local coal for power, and a splendid natural environment. This synergy between French silk reeling technology and the local sericulture industry laid the foundation for Japanese raw silk to gain global recognition.
It's worth noting the working conditions of that era. At a time when the norm was to toil in the fields from sunrise to sunset, with the exception of the Bon holidays, the Tomioka Silk Mill provided amenities such as lunch breaks, rest periods, meals, on-site clinics, Sundays off, and a monthly salary system based on job grade. Tomioka Silk Mill was among the pioneers in adopting such a Western-style working structure, which later became a model for the industry. The young women, often referred to as "factory girls," took great pride in their work. The modern working environment that we now take for granted has evolved to this extent through a historical continuum.
Today, the mill has fulfilled its role and now stands in quiet solitude. Yet, when you observe the extensive automatic silk reeling machines that seem to stretch endlessly, you can still feel the vitality and vigor of its heyday when these machines were in full operation. It's an experience I encourage you to seek out if you ever have the opportunity.
Tomioka Silk Mill