Exploring Tomioka Silk Mill (富岡製糸場) in Gunma, Japan
Located in Tomioka City, 110km (68 miles) northwest of Tokyo, the Tomioka Silk Mill (富岡製糸場) is one of Japan’s oldest industrial facilities. Since its founding in 1872, the mill produced some of the finest silks in the world for over a century until it ceased its operation in 1987. The mill is a government-appointed historical site open to the public, and was nominated to become a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in April.
The silk mill was once a major modernizing force as Japan began trade with the Western countries. The Japanese government commissioned French designers, engineers and instructors to staff the mill, and the facility was filled with equipment from France as well. Women across Japan were also recruited to work at the mill under fixed working hours with food and medical benefits—a highly advanced labor environment for the time.
Even after 140 years, the entire facility including the silk reeling factory, cocoon warehouses and workers’ dormitories are well preserved, adding a historical and aesthetic value to the site that attracts both local and visiting Instagrammers alike.