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Tomioka Silk Mill

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Tomioka Silk Mill

Tomioka Silk Mill

Tomioka Silk Mill was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2014 as a center of innovation regarding the silk industry, mass production, and the successful integration of French industrial expertise. Tomioka was chosen by the government as a silk reeling factory for its accessibility to all the components to creating raw silk, including nearby water supply, the proximity of coal, availability of land, cold storage, etc. Even though the facility closed its doors in 1987, the Tomioka Silk Mill is one of the only government-operated facilities constructed by the Meiji regime and maintains a near perfect condition.

At the end of the Edo Period and beginning of the Meiji Restoration, Japan was ending its isolation period and began trading with Western countries in 1859. One of the most important exports of the time was raw silk. The production of raw silk was all done by hand and could not meet the growing demand of the West except by sacrificing quality for quantity. The result was a drop in value in the global market. To counter this growing concern, the government worked with Paul Brunat, a man who worked with a French trading company in Yokohama in 1870. Paul found Tomioka suitable for the construction of the silk mill and began building in 1871. In 1872, Tomioka Silk Mill started production with the most modern machinery and expertise from France.

The Tomioka Silk Mill allowed 300 people to work at the same time, which made it one of the largest silk reeling mills in its day. Its technological transfer of French industrial sericulture methods illustrates the successful international trade commodity and entryway to the modern industrialized world. In addition, the Tomiko Silk Mill helped establish the textile industry as one of Japan’s most important industries into the 20th century.