Constructed by the Japanese government in the early 1870s as a model mill, the Tomioka Silk Mill marked the beginning of Japan’s industrialization after hundreds of years of isolation. As one of Japan’s first major industrial projects it has great symbolic significance, which was recognized in 2014 when the site was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While a significant site in Japan’s early modern history, the site doesn’t have a great deal of appeal to international visitors. Check out the mill if you are in the area or if you have a strong interest in Japan’s modern history. Otherwise, it’s not worth a special trip. It’s also roughly half way between Tokyo and Jigokudan Snow Monkey Park, if you’re looking to break up a car journey.
What should I see at Tomioka Silk Mill?
The buildings — constructed using a combination of traditional Japanese framing techniques with brick facades — are quite unique in Japan. Most buildings of this type have not survived the many earthquakes for which Japan is infamous. However, through a western lens, where industrial buildings of a similar vintage are numerous, the buildings are a little less interesting.
The real interest here is the social history and how it ties in with Japan’s rapid modernization after the isolation of the Edo period.
The Western Cocoon Warehouse houses a museum with information about the workers and their lives at the mill. There is good English signage and there is also a free audio guide.
The 140m-long Silk-reeling Plant has been left exactly as it was when the site closed in 1989. There are silk reeling demonstrations here each day from 10 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. and in the afternoon from 2 p.m. until 3:30 p.m.
In the preserved family accommodation, you can see a display of actual live silk worms.
Is there a gift shop? A cafe?
There is a small gift shop selling small items made of silk, as well as typical Japanese-style individually wrapped souvenir sweets. There is no cafe within the grounds of the silk mill.
How long should I spend at the Tomioka Silk Mill?
About 2 hours is enough to see everything at the Tomioka Silk Mill.
When should I go? Does it get crowded?
The mlll is most popular with Japanese visitors, so weekends and public holidays are the busiest.
How to get to Tomioka Silk Mill
If going by car, take the Tomioka exit on the Joshinetsu Expressway. There is no parking at the mill, but there are parking lots in the surrounding area. Cheapest are the municipal parking lots which are free for the first 30 minutes, then ¥100 for each subseqent period of 30 minutes. The most convenient parking is a much pricier private parking lot opposite the Nirazuka Silk Mill.
If coming by train, you need to transfer to the Jōshin Dentetsu Jōshin Line at Takasaki Station and alight at Jōshū-Tomioka Station. The journey from Takasaki takes about 40 minutes and costs ¥810. From here, it’s a well signposted 15-minute walk.
What’s near the Tomioka Silk Mill?
Shiromachi-dōri street, which is the main aproach to the mill, has some interesting souvenir shops and some more traditional historical buildings. The Gunma Museum of Natural History is a 10-minute car journey from the mill.