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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tomiko Silk Mill Named World Heritage Site

Well, well… somehow in this blog I will cross-reference the United Nations and boobs and not seem completely pervy. I hope.

Japan's Tomioka Silk Mill and related sites have become one of the latest sites to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site List. Japan lobbies quite hard every year to have several of its sites added to the list.

Image above is of the interior of the Tomioka Silk Mill workshop from yellow bird woodstock from JAPAN - 富岡製糸場・繰糸場 - found on Wikipedia.

UNESCO is one of those acronyms we all know, but I bet few actually know what the letters stand for - so here you go: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization… and, like the name suggests, it is a special agency of the United Nations.

The Tomioka Silk Mill complex was built and operated by Japan's Meiji government in 1872 in the city of Tomioka, Gunma-ken, situated about 100 kilometers northwest of Tokyo.

This mill, using machinery imported from France is considered to be Japan's foray into the industrial revolution, as a way to modernize its traditional silk production after centuries of closed door socio-economic policies.


It helped turn Japan into one of the leading global exporters of silk.

The Tomioka Silk Mill site itself is made up of four areas, each a part of the production of raw silk:
1) production of cocoons in an experimental farm;
2) a  cold storage facility for silkworm eggs; 
3) reeling of cocoons and spinning of raw silk in a mill, and;
4) a school for the dissemination of sericulture (silk farming) knowledge.

Silk farming is the raising of actual silk worms and 'milking' them for their silk production.

Okay, okay… here's how it works:
  • get a silk moth… it lays thousands of eggs;
  • when the larvae hatch, the silk farmers will feed them mulberry leaves (only this leaf);
  • the silk worm weaves a silk net to hold itself;
  • it swings its head in the form of a figure eight;
This silk solidifies when it comes into contact with air. The silk worm will then begin the process of cocooning itself in its silk, a process that can take up to three days. Each cocoon will contain about 1.6-kilometers (one-mile) of silk filament.

Now… despite that one-mile of silk contained as the cocoon, each cocoon only really has a small amount of usable silk for the farmers.

Basically, about 5,500 silk worms can form about one-kilogram (2.2-lbs) of usable raw silk.

This usable raw silk is actually found from undamaged cocoons whereby each is brushed to find the outside end of the filament.

These silk filaments are then wound upon a reel - a reel that can hold about 914-meters (1,000 yards).

Still known as raw silk, these filaments are wound to create silk thread… one thread is made up of 48 silk filaments.

Traveling from Japan to Thailand for a vacation, I actually had pair of black raw silk pants, two silk shirts (green with threads of red silk and blue with threads of red silk) and a red silk dress jacket made from me, based on my custom suggestions… all for the equivalent of $40 Cdn ( ¥3,800), back in the early 1990s.

Never purchase a red silk jacket unless you want people to think you are working at a restaurant as a valet.


Between its inception in 1978, through 2013, 981 natural and cultural sites around the world have been inscribed on UNESCO's World Heritage List. And now we have the 2014 global list (see HERE).

While I won't bore you with the process of countries trying to get things ONTO the list, I will tell you that each site up for consideration MUST meet at least one of 10 specific UNESCO criteria.
The Tomioka site actually met two of the criteria, points ii and iv.

The criteria, found on the UNESCO website (HERE), consists of:
Selection criteria
(i) to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius;
(ii) to exhibit an important interchange of human values, over a span of time or within a cultural area of the world, on developments in architecture or technology, monumental arts, town-planning or landscape design;
(iii) to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a civilization which is living or which has disappeared;
(iv) to be an outstanding example of a type of building, architectural or technological ensemble or landscape which illustrates (a) significant stage(s) in human history;
(v) to be an outstanding example of a traditional human settlement, land-use, or sea-use which is representative of a culture (or cultures), or human interaction with the environment especially when it has become vulnerable under the impact of irreversible change;
(vi) to be directly or tangibly associated with events or living traditions, with ideas, or with beliefs, with artistic and literary works of outstanding universal significance. (The Committee considers that this criterion should preferably be used in conjunction with other criteria);
(vii) to contain superlative natural phenomena or areas of exceptional natural beauty and aesthetic importance;
(viii) to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features;
(ix) to be outstanding examples representing significant on-going ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of terrestrial, fresh water, coastal and marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals;
(x) to contain the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity, including those containing threatened species of outstanding universal value from the point of view of science or conservation.

UNESCO will release the names of a few more World Heritage Sites over the next few days.

And… because you know you are curious, here's a list of all the other places designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Japan:

Cultural
  • Buddhist Monuments in the Horyu-ji Area (1993);
  • Himeji-jo (1993);
  • Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto (Kyoto, Uji and Otsu Cities) (1994);
  • Historic Villages of Shirakawa-go and Gokayama (1995);
  • Hiroshima Peace Memorial (Genbaku Dome) (1996);
  • Itsukushima Shinto Shrine (1996);
  • Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara (1998);
  • Shrines and Temples of Nikko (1999);
  • Gusuku Sites and Related Properties of the Kingdom of Ryukyu (2000);
  • Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range (2004);
  • Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape (2007);
  • Hiraizumi – Temples, Gardens and Archaeological Sites Representing the Buddhist Pure Land (2011);
  • Mt. Fuji, sacred place and source of artistic inspiration (2013);
  • Tomioka Silk Mill and Related Sites (2014)
Natural
  • Shirakami-Sanchi (1993);
  • Yakushima (1993);
  • Shiretoko (2005);
  • Ogasawara Islands (2011)
Although relatively close by to where I lived in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken, I, unfortunately, did not visit this Tomioka facility, nor did I even hear of the damn place until a few months ago when I knew it was up for consideration to the UNESCO list.

The most interesting thing I had learned about Gunma-ken prior to this, was the fact that the prefecture was ranked #10 in all of Japan for the average size boobs of its women.

Yes… I have a list - and it's an official list - HERE.

So yeah… visit Gunma-ken for the sites and the sights.

As for silkworm farming - I really though people physically massaged the worm to cause it to emit the silk - akin to "milking" a snake for its venom. Seriously... I thought you needed tiny little gentle hands.

I also learned that the silk worm larvae dies during the harvesting of silk from the cocoon. Now I'm not so enamored by silk.

If I only I knew all this before. You lucky, lucky readers, you.

Cheers,
Andrew Joseph
Image of the interior of the Tomioka Silk Mill workshop from
yellow bird woodstock from JAPAN - 富岡製糸場・繰糸場
- found on Wikipedia.

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