Javascript must be enabled to view this site.

Read our system requirements.

Tomioka Silk Mill
1 of 1

Tomioka Silk Mill, result 1 of 1

Item Details
Available to everyone
Tomioka Silk Mill
East Cocoon House
Detail view of entry arch on East Cocoon House
Detail View
Work Type
textile mills
Image: October 27, 2018
1-1 Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture 370-2316, Japan
Tomioka, Gumma-ken, Kanto, Japan
Latitude: 36.251 N
Longitude: 138.886 E
brick, stone, wood, tile, iron
Meiji Japan
The East Cocoon House was built in 1872. The ground floor was employed as office and work space, and the second floor was where the cocoons were kept. This silk mill represents an intermediate step in the industrial production of silk - in the first decades, production followed the annual cycle of traditional sericulture. This meant that all of the silk cocoons for an entire year’s worth of silk production had to be stored simultaneously, which explains the tremendous size of the East and West Cocoon Houses. Bricks and the lime used in the mortar were both locally sourced and produced. The keystone in the arch of the entry to the courtyard reads “5th year of Meiji” (i.e. 1872) in Chinese characters.
Commentary: The Tomioka Silk Mill was designed as a model silk-reeling factory during Japan’s period of top-down industrialization following the Meiji Restoration in 1867. Constructed in 1872 based on the plans of Paul Brunat, a French trader in Yokohama who was commissioned to bring his expertise in silk mill design to the Japanese government, the mill was to be emulated throughout Japan. Centrally located in Japan, on a site where both fresh water and coal were available nearby, the mill was largely constructed with local labor. Brunat and Junchu Odaka, the government official tasked with realizing the project, sought to improve the quality of Japanese silk production based on French methods. In addition to Brunat, experienced French female factory workers arrived to teach their Japanese counterparts the art of making high quality raw silk. Japanese women were recruited from all over the country, with the idea that they would take their new knowledge back to rural and provincial parts of Japan, furthering the nationwide industrialization movement. The mill was built and operated under government control until 1902, when it was sold to a private corporation. It operated until 1987, and was offered to Tomioka City in 2005 as a historic site. The buildings themselves were designed by Auguste Bastien, who had helped design other Japanese industrial architecture. Bastien’s designs were executed by local carpenters and craftsmen, and are a hybrid of Japanese and European construction techniques. The buildings were mostly brick with wood frames following European precedents, but featured Japanese tile roofs. In keeping with the designer’s experience, the bricks follow a French bond pattern. The major buildings on the site are the East Cocoon House, West Cocoon House, and Silk Reeling Plant. These are joined by other support structures and dormitories where workers and teachers lived during the plant’s early years.
Contributor: Sarah Rovang
Information: “World Heritage Site: Tomioka Silk Mill,” accessed February 16, 2019,
Photographer: Sarah Rovang
Historic Designation
Historic Designation (Other)
National Historic Site, National Important Cultural Property, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Sarah Rovang, 2018
Use of this image is in accordance with the Artstor Terms & Conditions
File Properties
File Name

Now viewing Tomioka Silk Mill