One of the happier pieces of news to grace media headlines in Japan recently has been the announcement that the Tomioka Silk Mill, located in Gunma Prefecture, is expected to make the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites in June this year. With everyone excited about this historic building becoming the eighteenth recognized World Heritage site in Japan, the mill is sure to attract an enormous tourist crowd during the current Golden Week holidays which go on until next Tuesday, as well as the upcoming summer season.

But even before all this buzz, Tomioka Silk Mill had its very own brand of souvenir chocolates, and they have now been attracting quite a bit of attention in Japan — not just because of the silk mill’s soon-to-be expected World Heritage status, but because of the utterly unique (and some may even say grotesque) appearance of the chocolates. Yes, as you can see from the picture, they’re silkworm chocolates!

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Now, you have to say that’s quite an unconventional look for a souvenir chocolate. But first, here’s a little bit of background information on the Tomioka Silk Mill, the makers of this unique treat. The silk mill was established in 1872 by the Japanese government, making it the oldest silk factory in Japan. It was built as a model factory to boost the production of silk, which was one of Japan’s most important export commodities at the time. Tomioka City in Gunma Prefecture was selected as the site for the factory for several reasons, including an environment suited to rearing silkworms and the availability of land, coal and fresh water. It was a huge factory where up to 300 people could work at one time, and the mill came to be known for employing large numbers of women. The factory remained in operation until 1987 when it finally shut down due to increasing imports of cheap silks from overseas.

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The silk mill has been a famous historical attraction in Japan for some time now, with structures such as the main building, warehouses and dormitories still in excellent condition. It had been placed on a tentative list for UNESCO World Heritage inscription in 2007, and after this was formally endorsed by the Japanese government last year, the announcement came late last month that the silk mill and three other related sites are collectively expected to be given official World Heritage status at the World Heritage Committee meeting to be held in Qatar from June 15 to 25.

Understandably, Japan has been quite excited about the news, and everything concerned with the silk mill has been receiving a great deal of attention, including their unusual chocolates.

We were naturally fascinated with the silkworm chocolates, and when we found out we could buy some at a specialty shop in the Ginza area of Tokyo, we just had to try some ourselves!

▼This is the shop “Gunmachan-chi” that specializes in products from Gunma Prefecture, where we bought the chocolates. They actually had a little banner up (right below the shop name) celebrating Tomioka Silk Mill’s expected registration as a World Heritage site in June.

▼Here’s a box of the chocolates, called Kaiko no Okoku (The Silkworm Kingdom). We bought a box of three chocolates, priced at 700 yen (US$6.80). You can also get a box of six for 1,300 yen ($12.71).Tomioka 1

▼The chocolates come individually wrapped in bright gold-colored packages.Tomioka 2

▼We can’t wait to open the packages …Tomioka 3

▼And out comes the chocolate silkworm!Tomioka 4

▼Yes, it’s a silkworm, all right!Tomioka top

▼A final, close-up look at the sweet. edible wormTomioka top-2

Well, trying the worm-shaped chocolates was certainly an interesting experience, but they were surprisingly tasty! The green chocolate making up the leaf actually contains powdered mulberry leaves, which is the kind of leaf that silkworms are grown on, and it tasted slightly like refreshing matcha (green tea) chocolate. The white chocolate used to make the worm’s body wasn’t too sweet, and it contained what seemed to be small berry bits and rice puffs, which gave it a nice crunchiness. All in all, the chocolate made for a savory snack that combines sweetness with a hint of green-tea-like freshness  as well as a fun, crispy texture — quite delightful, if you aren’t creeped out by the appearance of the snack!

So, what would you say to silkworm chocolate? We thought they looked kind of fun, actually. If you’re in Japan and can’t make your way to the Tomioka Silk Mill but are still desperate to get some of these chocolates, they’re available from Maruei Foods’ online shop, although they unfortunately don’t seem to ship overseas, or you can buy them like we did at the Gunmachan-chi shop in Ginza. The chocolates are probably in huge demand right now though, so if you’re going to the shop, you may want to check beforehand if they’re in stock.

[Shop details for Gunmachan-chi]
Open: Daily 10am – 7pm
Address: 5-13-19 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
(Right outside Exit 4 of the subway Higashi Ginza Station)
Tel: 03-3546-8511 (+81-3-3546-8511 from overseas)

Source: Tomioka Silk Mill for World Heritage Promotion Homepage,  Japan Times
Photo of Tomioka Silk Mill: Tomioka Silk Mill facebook page
All other photos: RocketNews24