Tomioka Silk Mill, the latest UNESCO world heritage site in Japan, sits along the river in the south of Tomioka. When I sit at my desk, I can see the tall chimney from my window and with summer break, why not? It was only a few blocks away.

I loaded up my bike basket with my camera and a bottle of water, and rode in the direction of the mill. I could tell when I reached it, since the crowds became impassable. On my first pass the line to get in was building, and for lack of bike parking, I rushed to store the bike nearby and join the cue. The small admission fee (500 Yen for adults, 250 Yen for university and high school students, 100 yen elementary and junior high students, and 1 child/disability with 1 accompanying free,) goes to the preservation and restoration of the buildings.

Looking in from the front gate.

Constructed in 1871, the long buildings still house some of the equipment, and displays some of the machinery that was lesser used. While free Japanese tours are offered hourly, a self guided audio tour in English can be accessed via smart phone, using the QR code provided at the entrance. (Other languages offered include; Japanese, Italian, Chinese and Korean.) They also provide English maps upon entry, with the quarky historical facts such as the delayed employment to initially run the mill because there were French workers and their red wine was mistaken for blood. (I wouldn’t want to work with people who drink blood either.)

Machinery inside the mill.

The mill had shut down in 1987 after being in Operation for 115 years. With the loss of work in the area, Tomioka went from a factory town, to a sleepy mountain town until 2005, when the buildings were designated as a National Historic site, which increased the tourism in the area, giving the town new life. Two years later in 2007 the site was picked up by UNESCO as a world heritage site.

Written by Kiki Lathrop

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