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Friday, 24th October 2014
In Events In Japan,

Tomioka Silk Mill to be National Treasure

Japan is full of stunning old temples and incredible areas of outstanding natural beauty, many of which have been declared National Treasures over the years in recognition of their uniqueness, historical importance or sheer beauty. However, with this in mind, the latest construction to attain the prestigious status might come as a surprise to many.

The Tomioka Silk Mill is the facility in question, with the Council for Cultural Affairs recommending that culture minister Hakubun Shimomura make its national treasure status official. But while the facility is interesting and extensive, it may not be immediately obvious why the it deserves such an honour.

Officials argue that Japan has yet to properly acknowledge the importance of its industrial buildings, and could do with highlighting that facilities such as the Tomioka Silk Mill have played vital roles in helping the country get where it is today. They say there is an imbalance, with the government preferring to nominate old buildings that might not serve as important a purpose as the silk mill.

Not only are the beautiful old buildings perfectly preserved but efforts have been taken to maintain the equipment itself, once operated by thousands of young women who would spend hundreds of hours spinning silk.

The Tomioka Silk Mill has already been honoured with a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List. But campaigners have spent years pushing for National Heritage status as well, and finally got their wish last week (October 18th).

Originally constructed in 1872 with the help of French silk workers - who helped Japanese mechanics to optimise the equipment necessary to turn silkworm cocoons into raw silk - the buildings that have been declared particularly important include the silk-reeling plant, the east cocoon warehouse and the west cocoon warehouse. Production only stopped upon closure in 1980 - more than a century after its doors first opened.

The mill is one of only two structures produced in the Meiji period to be recognised by the Japanese government, the other being the State Guest House in Tokyo, nicknamed the Akasaka Palace, which received the prestigious honour in 2009.

Those wishing to see the newly designated National Treasure are welcome to visit, with tours of its extensive halls, dormitories and worker rooms available in Japanese and English.

You can find the Tomioka Silk Mill in the Gunma prefecture, near the town of Tomioka itself. Shinkansen 'bullet train' services are available from Tokyo Station. Anyone wanting to travel around Japan may find it cheaper to purchase the JR Pass before entering the country, as intercity transport is notoriously expensive. The pass allows for unlimited usage of certain Shinkansen services - as well as some subway lines in Tokyo, Osaka and other cities - during a set duration of up to three weeks.