Silk is believed to have originated in China during the early Neolithic era as clothing textile, and brought to Japan between the third and second century BC when Japanese silk weaving techniques began to develop. From the mid 7th century AD, naturalized Japanese from China and the Korean Peninsula brought in techniques of sericulture, silk-reeling, dyeing and weaving, which spread throughout Japan. As the Japanese climate was suited to sericulture, silk-reeling and weaving, these processes followed a unique development in each region, which led to a wide range of silk textiles being produced in a number of regions.
Present status of the Industry
Sericulture and cocoon production have seen dramatic decline in recent years. The main factors are a decrease in profitability of cocoon production and a shortage of people inheriting farms. Cocoon production occurs mostly in parts of central Japan.
Today, there are 7 silk-reeling factories in Japan, and although their number has not changed in the past few years, the raw silk production per factory has been decreasing. Silk-reeling factories are located near the cocoon producing regions, and only small-scale factories remain.
Silk Processing industry
The number of weaving looms in Japan is decreasing each year, and the production of silk textiles is decreasing at a rate exceeding that of weaving looms. Much of Japan’s silk industry is located on the side of Japan Sea. As the humidity is relatively high, the conditions are more suitable for weaving silk textiles than on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan. There are also not many other local industries and historically had been a long tradition of silk textile production in these areas of Japan. 2. Types Sericulture was once a flourishing industry of the world. The Japese have produced some finest highly productive silwkrom breeds of the country. But due to rapid industrialization and urbanization, the sericulture is a declining industry in the country. Only bivoltine silk is produced in the country.
he Tomioka Silk Mill, established in 1872, played a significant role in the modernization of Japan. It was added to the list of World Heritage Sites in June 2014. This paper describes the transition of sericulture and silk industries in Japan from those days to modern times. It then describes administrative measures that the Japanese government has introduced and research by the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS) to improve the current situation of sericulture.
Transition and Current Status of Sericulture in Japan
In 1853, the US Navy’s Commodore Perry arrived in Japan. This became a trigger for the beginning of trade with western countries. At that time, Japanese exports were minor and consisted mainly of raw silk and tea, of which silk represented more than 60% of the total. For about 80 years from the opening of Yokohama Port in 1859 until Japan’s entry into World War II in 1941, raw silk production increased in line with exports. In 1909 (Meiji era, 42nd year), Japan surpassed China in raw silk production and became the world’s No. 1 silk producer. The foreign currency obtained from exporting raw silk was used for the purchase of industrial commodities, including machinery from the West, which became the foundation for the modernization and industrialization of Japan.
As silk trade increased, the stabilization of silk quality and improvement in productivity became important. In 1872 (Meiji 5th), the Japanese government invited French engineers to introduce technical innovations in silk production. Upon their advice, silk reeling and steam machines were imported, and the first silk mill factory in Japan was built in Tomioka, Gunma Prefecture. The Tomioka Silk Mill recruited women from all over Japan, and eventually propagated modern silk production throughout the country. The mill was sold to the private sector in 1893 (Meiji 26th) and continued operation for almost a century until it was closed in 1987 (Showa 62nd). Among the government-operated factories established during the Meiji Period (1868–1912), the Tomioka Silk Mill is the only one that retains its original structure. The building has profound historical value in the modernization of Japan and was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in June 2014.
Silk production has decreased greatly in Japan in recent years. The most remarkable change is that the production of domestic cocoons has decreased to only 0.7% of the total supply including imports in 2007. In addition, the proportion of imported secondary products has increased to 70% of all silk products. Most are imported from China.
At the same time, the numbers of silk farmers and cocoon production have continued to decline. In 2012, the number of silk farming households had declined to 567, and only 202 tonnes of cocoons were produced, less than 1% of 1989 production. The main reason for the decline is that the farmers have abandoned silkworm rearing because of the low price of cocoons, and because many are reaching retirement age. The price of imported raw silk also keeps the price of domestic raw silk low. As a result, only two machine filature factories are still in business.
This situation leads to a vicious circle: decreased cocoon production leads to a decline of silk reeling, which accelerates imports of low-price raw silk and silk products, which keeps the price of domestic raw silk low, which encourages silk farmers to abandon farming.