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Preserving Japanese History at Tomioka Silk Mill in Gunma

Posted By on Mar 1, 2015


The Tomioka Silk Mill is located in Gunma Prefecture, about 75 miles from Tokyo. This mill first opened in Japan in 1872, when the government tried to recruit young women to work at the factory.

The silk mill was one of the first campaigns created by Emperor Meiji, who was trying to globalize Japan and make them more industrious. At the time, raw silk was Japan’s most important export, so a factory seemed crucial to bring Japan to the world stage.


Unfortunately for Emperor Meiji, things did not go according to plan at the beginning.

When they opened the mill they appointed French men to run it, and the Japanese women heard rumors that they drank blood—so no one applied to this great job opportunity.

The Japanese government actually had to make a statement putting an end to the rumors. In the end, it turned out that the women had mistaken the men drinking red wine for blood because of the color and its non-existence in Japan at the time. Isn’t that funny?


Finally the mill became fully operational, filled with workers, just months behind schedule. Women came from all over Japan and were put up in dormitories on site.

After being active for over a century, it was finally shut down in 1987. The mill’s early success set the stage for Japan’s economic growth for the next decades to come.

As of summer 2014, the mill has officially been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its crucial role in the modernization and industrialization of Japan.


The mill is open to the public and now houses a museum inside. It’s kind of cool walking through the abandoned mill imagining what it would have been like with all the lively sounds and workers.

All of the machines are still in place, with just a simple sheet of plastic covering them for protection.

Even beyond being a UNESCO site, it’s a very interesting piece of Japanese history to visit while in Japan. Thanks to its proximity to Tokyo, it could easily be visited as a day trip from the city.

Address: 1-1 Tomioka, Tomioka 370-2316, Gunma Prefecture


[post by Beth]

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Beth Williams

Originally from Chicago, Beth got her first true taste of travel when she studied abroad in Japan during her final year of university. She ended up loving Asia so much, she found herself moving right back upon graduating and is currently teaching English full-time in Hong Kong. Armed with her camera and a passion for travel, she is currently on a mission to photograph the world-- proving that you can work the normal “9-5” and still find time to travel on her blog Besudesu Abroad.

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