Tomioka Silk Mill

Getting Wrapped Up in Gunma’s World Heritage Site, Tomioka Silk Mill

Japan’s first silk model factory is now a place where visitors can come learn about the history and development of the nation’s raw silk industry less than two hours from Tokyo. (Photo provided by Gunma Prefecture.)

Art & Culture History Family Fun Sites Traditions
Gunma’s 150-year-old World Heritage Site Tomioka Silk Mill continues to weave past and present.

Gunma’s 150-year-old World Heritage Site Tomioka Silk Mill continues to weave past and present.

While the rich history of silk in Asia began over 5,000 years ago, it wasn’t until the third century when Japan got to work harvesting silk, becoming a prized material for kimono weavers in the Heian Period (794-1185). It wasn’t until the Meiji Restoration in the late 1800s that production was finally modernized. And the Tomioka Silk Mill, built in southern Gunma Prefecture in 1872, was the first full-scale raw silk factory in the nation. (Photo provided by Gunma Prefecture.)

Designed with the help of French raw silk specialists to help maximize production efficiency and quality, the mill still stands more or less as it did almost 150 years ago. It became a World Heritage Site in 2014, was recognized as a pivotal catalyst in the commodification of Japanese raw silk for international trade. The mill also kick started the nation’s silk reeling industry, which became one of the most important economic pillars of the 20th century. Upon the mill’s inception it was a state-of-the-art facility, attracting female workers from all over the country to learn and perfect yarn-making techniques that combined traditional Japanese methodologies with technological advances of the West. (Photo provided by Gunma Prefecture.)

The Tomioka Silk Mill shut down production in the 1980s, yet Gunma still accounts for 40 more than 30% percent of Japan’s cocoon production. Visitors can enter several buildings on the Tomioka Silk Mill grounds, including the silk reeling mill, which was state-of-the-art at the time it was used. Audio guides that can be downloaded directly to your smartphone are also available in several languages, and visitors can enjoy guided tours in English with advance reservation. (Photo provided by Gunma Prefecture.)

Tomioka Silk Mill

Tomioka Silk Mill

Silk has been a very important industry throughout Japanese history, and you can witness that legacy at the Tomioka Silk Mill, less than two hours from Tokyo. The fastest way to get there is by bullet train. And while you’re traveling in and around Tokyo, be sure to check out a few spots from our model itinerary list found here. (Photo provided by Gunma Prefecture.)


Tel: +81 274-67-0075

Business hours

09:00 - 17:00
(last entrance at 16:30)

WEB site

Visit Gunma


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