Tomioka Silk Mill, which contributed to the modernization of Japan

Tomioka Silk Mill was a model mechanized silk mill, established in 1872 by the Meiji government in the first such attempt to modernize Japan and catch up with the West. At the time, there was a problem with a decline in the quality of Japan’s silk producing industry, and the story of Tomioka Silk Mill apparently began with the state’s invitation of a foreign (French) engineer to oversee the establishment of a model mill equipped with Western silk reeling machines. The exchange of Japanese and Western technologies, leading to an improvement in the quality and productivity of Japan’s silk producing industry, in return made a contribution to the advancement of technology worldwide. This aspect could be considered as the value of Tomioka Silk Mill.


Note the blend of Japanese and French architectural styles

The silk mill is about 140.4 meters long, 12.3 meters wide and 12.1 meters high, which made it among the largest in the world at that time. The walls were built of brick over a timber frame, in the French style. Brick was then a new material for Japan, but the roof used Japanese tiles, successfully fusing them with Western culture. The man chosen to direct the construction of Tomioka Silk Mill was Paul Brunat, who was invited from France for the purpose. His annual salary is said to have been ¥50,000,000, meaning that he was paid as much as, if not more than, a government minister. This shows to what extent the contemporary Japanese state threw its weight behind the Tomioka Silk Mill.



France’s gifts to Japan were technology and “days off”?

Upon entering the silk mill, you will be overwhelmed by the rows upon rows of silk reeling machines and vats. Over 300 factory girls worked here in those days. They took the techniques in which they had been instructed by the French back to their hometowns and became instructors in turn, spreading the new technology. These women’s efforts paid off, and in 1909, Japan became the number one exporter of raw silk in the world. The factory girls at the Tomioka Silk Mill back then worked an eight hour day. Nowadays, that sounds normal, but in other mills at the time, twelve hour days were not considered anything unusual. Days off on national holidays and Sundays were introduced to Japan for the first time, as were summer and winter holidays. Almost all Japanese companies have now adopted these practices so, considering this history, it appears that there may be a deep connection between Japanese employees’ holidays and the Tomioka Silk Mill…

I seem to hear an office worker somewhere saying “If only they had made Friday a day off as well!”





1-1 Nanokaichi Tomioka, Gunma Pref.

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Writer / Translator

I’m a freelance translator from Tokyo who likes to travel right in the middle of the unpredictables in life. Through the translation of articles I hope to create points of contact between Japan and the rest of the world. As a writer, I want to add information that isn’t in the guide book, from a “wasabi” perspective!



Address 1-1 Nanokaichi Tomioka, Gunma Pref
Hours A.M.9:30~P.M.5:00(Last Entry is until P.M. 4:30)