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Japan did not start large-scale industrialization until the country faced the threat of Western imperialism in the second half of the 19th century. In order to remain independent and catch up with the West, Japan successfully undertook an industrial revolution that made it the first industrialized country in Asia over the period of just half a century.

In 2014, the Tomioka Silk Factory was designated a word heritage site, representing the revolution of Japan's silk industry, the country's leading industry for many decades before World War 2. One year later, over a dozen industrial sites across Japan received world heritage status as the Sites of Japan's Meiji Industrial Revolution, illustrating the country's path to become a major industrial power during the Meiji Period (1868-1912).

Today, tourists can find a variety of industry-related attractions across Japan, ranging from historic mines, modern automobile factories and train museums to breweries and distilleries and robots. Below are some highlights of Japan's industrial tourism:

Robots

National Museum of Emerging Science

Also known as the Miraikan, this well done, highly interactive and bilingual science museum includes a robotics section with several robots and androids on display, including Honda Motor's Asimo.

See our robot page for more robot-related attractions...

Automobiles

Mazda Museum

The Mazda Motor Corporation was founded in Hiroshima in 1920 and still retains its corporate headquarters in the city. The Mazda Museum offers an overview of Mazda's history, the technology of its automobiles and future developments, as well as a look into an actual vehicle assembly line.

Mining

Gunkanjima

Gunkanjima, formally known as Hashima Island, is an abandoned island located about 20 kilometers from Nagasaki Port. The island served as a coal mine until 1974 when the mines were closed and everyone left, leaving the island in a state frozen in time. Visitors can visit Gunkanjima by joining a sightseeing tour.

Iwami Ginzan

At its peak, Iwami Ginzan in Shimane Prefecture was one of the top producing silver mines in the world. It had a yearly output of 38 tons of silver, making up approximately a third of the world's production at the time. Silver from the mine was of exceptionally high quality, and control of the mine was acquired by the Tokugawa Shogunate in the early 1600s. A section of the mine as well as a few other historic buildings are open to the public.

Sado Kinzan Gold Mine

Sado Kinzan on Sado Island used to be the most productive gold mine in Japan, producing nearly 400 kg of gold annually as well as smaller amounts of silver and copper. The gold mine ended operations in 1989. It is now open to the public with two walking courses that lead through the mining tunnels.

Iwaki Coal and Fossil Museum

Coal mining was the main industry in Iwaki until the 1960s, and the Iwaki Coal and Fossil Museum commemorates that history. The museum simulates the experience of going deep underground into a coal mine, and visitors can learn about the working conditions of the miners in the past as well as how coal was collected over the years. There is also an extensive collection of fossils from all over the world at the museum including one that was excavated in Iwaki in 1968.
Fukuoka and Kumamoto Prefectures

Miike Coal Mines

The Miike Coal Mines were established along the Ariake Sea in the Meiji Period. The two best preserved of them, Manda and Miyanohara, have been designated as world heritage sites. The Manda mine, in particular, preserves not only the elevator structures but several other surrounding brick buildings.

Heavy Industries

Imperial Steel Works

The state-owned Imperial Steel Works in Yawata, Kitakyushu, were built towards the end of the Meiji Period and played a major role in the development of the modern steel industry in Japan. The complex still operates under a private owner today and is not accessible to visitors, but the nearby, preserved Higashida Daiichi blast furnaces can be inspected by tourists.

Textiles

Tomioka Silk Mill

Tomioka Silk Mill, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was established in 1872 as Japan's first modern silk factory. The silk mill played a crucial role in making Japanese silk a major international trade commodity and establishing the textile industry as the country's most important industry. Visitors to the mill can view the well preserved buildings and modern silk reeling machines.

Yokohama Silk Museum

For a long time, silk was one of Japan's most important export products, and a considerable amount of it was shipped out of the port of Yokohama. The Yokohama Silk Museum illustrates the history of silk, silk garments from Japan and around the world, and silk producing technologies (including live silkworms).

Food and Drink

Shiroi Koibito Park

The Shiroi Koibito Park is a theme park by Ishiya, a chocolate company which is most famous for its flagship product, the Shiroi Koibito cookie. The park consists of a free area with a shop, cafe and restaurant and a paid area with various chocolate related exhibits and, more interestingly, a few large windows through which visitors can observe the cookie production process in the factory.

Sapporo Beer Museum

Sapporo Beer, one of the oldest and most popular beer brands in Japan, has been brewed in Sapporo since 1877. The Sapporo Beer Museum is housed in a former brewery from the Meiji Period. Visitors to the museum can learn about the history of beer in Japan and the process of beer making. Tastings are also available for a small fee after the exhibitions.

Kirin Beer Factory

Kirin is one of Japan's main producers of beer, and the Kirin Beer Factory is part of Kirin's brewery in Yokohama, another city that played a leading role in introducing beer to Japan. The main attraction is a tour of the brewery that includes free tasting.

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

Founded in 1923 by Torii Shinjiro, the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery just outside Kyoto is one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Japan. Torii picked Yamazaki as a location for its quality natural waters which play a large role in the flavor of the whisky. Tourists can participate in paid guided tours and view the Suntory Yamazaki museum, however, advance reservations are required.

Nikka Whisky Yoichi Distillery

The Nikka Yoichi Distillery near Otaru in Hokkaido is another of the oldest whisky distilleries in Japan. The company's founder, Taketsuru Masataka, studied whisky making techniques for several years in Scotland before bringing the craft back to Japan. The distillery offers free guided and self-guided tours and a good museum. Advance reservations are not mandatory.

Cup Noodles Museum

This fun museum follows the history of instant noodles with interactive exhibits, modern art and hands on experiences. For a small fee visitors can design their own cup noodles or make instant ramen noodles from scratch (reservations required). There is also a food court that serves noodle dishes from around the world.

Marine

Herring Mansions

During the peak of the herring fishing industry, large Herring Mansions were built by wealthy fishermen to process the fish and as a residence for themselves and their employees. A large preserved herring mansion dating back to the end of the 19th century can be found beside the water about five kilometers outside central Otaru.

Taiji Whale Museum

Located in a region where whales have been hunted for centuries, the Taiji Whale Museum offers information on whales and the whaling industry from both historical and modern points of view. Whaling methods and practices are highlighted by displays, and whale meat is available for purchase in the museum gift shop.

Mikimoto Pearl Island

The Mikimoto Pearl Island, located in the Bay of Toba, is an excellent museum about pearls, pearl cultivation and Mikimoto Kokichi, the first person who succeeded in cultivating pearls. There are hourly performances by female pearl divers, known as Ama, who have traditionally been planting and harvesting the oysters (and other seafood), as well as a shop where visitors can view and purchase a wide variety of pearl jewelry.

Transportation

NYK Maritime Museum

NYK (Nippon Yusen Kaisha) is one of the world's biggest shipping companies with a long and varied history dating back to the 1880s. The museum outlines the company's history from the opening of Japan after the period of isolation to NYK's present role in international shipping, illustrating the development of marine technology, commerce and politics along the way.

Finance

Tokyo Stock Exchange

The Tokyo Stock Exchange is located close to the Nihonbashi Bridge and is open to the public on trading days. Visitors can view the trading center from the visitors' gallery, participate in a simulated stock trading game, and learn about the history of the Japanese securities market at the TSE Historical Museum.

Currency Museum

Maintained by the Bank of Japan, the Currency Museum recollects the history of money in Japan. It also shows some unique examples of money from around the world. The museum is located just across the street from the Bank of Japan's main building in Tokyo's Nihonbashi district.

Environmental Issues

Page last updated: January 17, 2017