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The Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Industrial Heritage

Date of Submission: 30/01/2007
Criteria: (ii)(iv)(v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Agency for Cultural Affairs, Government of Japan
State, Province or Region:
Gunma Prefecture
Coordinates: N36 15 19 E138 53 16
Ref.: 5094
Word File

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


The Tomioka Silk Mill was built in 1872 to improve the quality of Japan's raw silk, one of the nation's main exports. The mill boasts many unique features that clearly reflect Japan's distinct experience of industrialization. First, the mill was a national government-operated factory built under the Japanese government policy to encourage new industry. French silk-reeling technologies were actively introduced at this model mill in Tomioka, and those techniques were then widely disseminated across the nation. Moreover, the mill produced high-standard products for export promotion. The Tomioka Silk Mill is considered as a significant testimony to show how the Western concept of industrial revolution-modernization-in the form of "factories" spread to the Far East and was incorporated in a full-fledged and rapid manner.

The mass-production of raw silk brought about by the development of mechanized filature at the Tomioka Silk Mill and the promotion of silk exports increased demand for cocoons, the raw material for silk. The needs to increase cocoon production brought distinctive features to houses of silk-raising farmers in Gunma Prefecture. Groups of those houses formed a unique rural landscape with mulberry fields surrounding them. In addition, houses that produced silkworm eggs and supplied them to the sericulture houses as well as cold storage facilities were set up. Moreover, sericulture training facilities and warehouse facilities and railroads related to the transport of cocoons and raw silk as well as union organizations for traditional manual silk-reeling houses were created. A silk textile industry also developed in the area. As a consequence, a unique cultural landscape related to the silk industry was formed. Drawing on the sericulture and filature which were already flourishing in the Edo period (1600-1868), the silk industry blossomed in Japan with modernization.

Gunma Prefecture became one of the leading productive centres of cocoons and raw silk in Japan, and the advanced technology developed at the Tomioka Silk Mill spread throughout the nation. As a result, Japan became the world's largest exporter of raw silk in 1909, and the foreign currency earned through silk exports fueled the advancement of the industrial revolution in Japan and the shift from light industry to heavy industry. Along with the development of a modern silk industry in the United States and other countries, the inexpensive, high-quality raw silk that Japan exported contributed to the popularization of silk in the world.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The entire site of the Tomioka Silk Mill is designated as a Historic Site, and the buildings dating from the inauguration of the mill are designated as Important Cultural Properties. The other related silk industry properties are also preserved in excellent condition. Thus, it is considered that authenticity is fully ensured.

The site includes not only the Tomioka Silk Mill but also the full ensemble of its related silk industry facilities. Thus, it is also considered that integrity is sufficiently ensured.

Comparison with other similar properties

A set of silk mill facilities that was introduced in the early Meiji Period (1868-1912) is well preserved. In addition, its related industrial heritage also remains, including the sericulture houses and their distinctive cultural landscape, silkworm-egg storage facilities, and the old railroad system for silk-related transport. The site is considered exceptional as industrial heritage that shows the development from traditional raw silk production in the government's policy to promote industrialization and export.