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Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2002
Paying homage to the 'queen of fabrics'
By ERIKO ARITA
From a tiny worm to gorgeous dresses all over the planet, the Silk Museum in Yokohama brings to life the miracle of the "queen of fabrics."
Located near the Port of Yokohama -- once the nation's main gateway for raw silk exports to the world, the museum features a wide range of exhibits on silk, including the ecology of silkworms, technology to produce the fabric and the culture of silk clothing.
Beyond clothing, the exhibits illustrate a variety of uses for silk.
"Silk is not just for clothing but also used in food and housing," said Katsuo Koizumi, director of the museum.
Koizumi, who engaged in research and silk-industry promotion for years as a prefectural official in Aichi and Kanagawa, said the museum is believed to be the largest of its kind in Japan.
Silk fiber, emitted from the worms' mouths, contains 18 kinds of amino acids that are also found in humans.
That is why the fiber is gentle to the skin and proven to be good for the health, said Koizumi, adding that it is used as an ingredient in such foods as noodles and candy as well as in cosmetics and medical supplies, including surgical thread.
Visitors to the museum can also learn the secret of the beautiful luster of silk fabrics. A microscopic image shows the fiber's prism-shaped structure. When light travels through the prism, it generates a diffused reflection and makes the fabric shine.
In another section, living silkworm larvae can be viewed. Koizumi explained that in the process of metamorphosis, silkworms molt four times, then emit up to 1,700 meters of thread in just two days to form a cocoon.
The ecology of silkworms is taught outside of the museum too, as it provides eggs to about 600 elementary schools in Kanagawa Prefecture and Tokyo every year to let students observe how they grow.
The museum also has displays on the various kinds of silkworms around the world and cocoons of different colors, including yellow, pink and gold.
Koizumi said children to senior citizens enjoy the museum. A weaving machine is popular with kids, he said, and this machine and other exhibits evoke nostalgia in the elderly, who can remember the time when Japan's silk industry prospered up to the 1960s.
"(The machine) reminds me of what my grandma was doing," said a woman looking at the old manual device that boils cocoons and reels thread off them.
Kanagawa Prefecture, Yokohama and businesses circles established the museum in 1959 to commemorate the centennial anniversary of the opening of the Port of Yokohama. The facility is housed in the Silk Center International Trade and Sightseeing Building.
"Yokohama wouldn't have developed into such a big city without silk, " Koizumi said.
After the opening of the port to the world in 1859, Yokohama became the national center for raw silk exports, and silk scarf production developed as a major industry because foreigners who settled in the city created a demand for silk handkerchiefs, he said.
Most of the exhibitions have English-language explanations, and pamphlets in English are provided.
The Silk Museum is a 15-minute walk from JR Sakuragicho or JR Kannai stations on the Keihin Tohoku Line. Or take the No. 26 bus from Sakuragicho Station and get off at Osanbashi. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. When Mondays fall on a national holiday, the museum is open but is closed the following Tuesday. For more information, call the museum at (045) 641-0841 or visit the Web site at www.silkmuseum.or.jp