Let's Go To The Museum / Farmer's Ingenuity Supported Silk Industry


Let's go to the museum / Farmer's ingenuity supported silk industry

By Yuki Miyashita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTAKASAKI, Gunma — Silk is a popular textile for things like clothing and bedding, thanks to its smooth texture. Once a supremely luxurious item out of the reach of ordinary people, it doesn't come cheap even today.

The Nippon Silk Center in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, presents the history of the sericultural and silk industries, walking visitors through how silk was manufactured and came to be produced on a large scale in this country. The museum also shares detailed stories about the Tomioka Silk Mill and related industrial heritage sites that were designated as UNESCO's World Heritage sites in 2014.

The history of silk is summarized in a series of panels at the center. It was invented in China in the pre-Christian era and started being mass-produced in 19th-century Europe. Japan imported silk production techniques after opening to trade in 1854, and raw silk soon became a major export item.

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Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

A series of panels explain the sericultural and silk industries.

 

Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

Cocoons of various species of silkworms. Each has a different thickness, color and ease of dyeing.

 

Taku Yaginuma/Special to The Yomiuri Shimbun

Textiles from all over Japan, including Kaga Yuzen print silk and Nishijin brocade

 

The Yomiuri Shimbun

 

The government-run Tomioka Silk Mill opened in 1872 in Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture, incorporating technology from France. Around 1900, Japan surpassed China to become the world’s largest exporter of raw silk.

Many cocoons are needed to mass-produce raw silk. The museum exhibits a historical model of a sericulturist’s house, featuring a silkworm rearing method called Seion-iku. Chogoro Takayama invented the method in 1883, whereby a skylight is set for proper ventilation, and a fire pit is installed in the middle of a house to keep the room warm. The method became the nation’s standard for rearing silkworms.

Takayama is the founder of the Yosan-kairyo Takayama-sha school for breeding silkworms. Built based on the Seion-iku method, his home in Fujioka, Gunma Prefecture, is known as the Takayama-sha Sericulture School, one of the World Heritage sites.

"It can be said that the wisdom and ingenuity of sericulturists in Gunma Prefecture supported Japan’s industry back then," said Misato Takeuchi, the center’s director.

The section of the museum dedicated to Japan’s traditional textiles showcases Nishijin brocade from Kyoto Prefecture, Kaga Yuzen print silk from Ishikawa Prefecture and Yukitsumugi silk fabric from Ibaraki and Tochigi prefectures, allowing visitors to witness the differences in how silk is processed.

Live silkworms are also on display in the center. The insects shed their skin four times before spinning a 1,300-meter-long thread in two days to pupate. With any luck, visitors can watch them forming cocoons. The center serves as a nice detour on a visit to the Tomioka Silk Mill.

Nippon Silk Center

The Gunma prefectural government built the center in 1998 to introduce the various cultures behind silk cultivation, yarn-making and silk products. Visitors can make reservations and pay for workshops wherein they dye and weave silk. The center is an about 20-minute drive from Maebashi IC on the Kanetsu Expressway. By bus, it takes about 30 minutes from JR Maebashi Station.

Address: 888-1 Kanekomachi, Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture

Hours: 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Closed on Tuesdays, in principle.

Admission: ¥200 for adults, ¥100 for university, high school students. ¥400 for adults and ¥250 for students during special exhibitions.

Inquiries: (027) 360-6300Speech