Ghost Chimney Monument - Atlas Obscura

Ghost Chimney Monument

Once known for its eerie appearance, this semicircular monument is all that remains of a Tokyo industrial icon. 

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The Senju Thermal Power Station was established in 1926 by the Tokyo Electric Power Company as a replacement for the Asakusa power plant that was driven into shutdown following the catastrophic earthquake of 1923. The new plant was situated by the Sumida River so that it was easy to transport coal.

Initially, the thermal power station was equipped with three chimneys handed down from the Asakusa plant, originally installed in 1905. They were joined by another chimney in 1926, forming a quartet that would be known as the Obake Entotsu or “Ghost Chimneys,” an industrial icon of Tokyo’s shitamachi (downtown) area.

Here, the use of the word obake is a bit ambiguous. In Japanese, it can mean anything eerie and supernatural, typically something ghostly or strange but often with a connotation of hugeness in size. Perhaps it was both, as the chimneys could be seen from miles around, with their number changing depending on the angle as they were placed in a diamond shape. Another theory suggests that the smoke reminded locals of crematoriums, as the power station was rarely active at first.

Surviving the bombings of World War II, it went on to provide electricity to Tokyo until it was shut down and replaced by another plant in Toyosu in May 1963. A beloved icon, it has appeared in the 1953 film Tokyo Story, a masterpiece of Japanese cinema, as well as other classic films (including one titled Where Chimneys Are Seen) and works of literature. When the demolition of the Senju Thermal Power Station was announced in December 1963, a protest took place and lasted for 84 hours straight.

A chunk of one of the chimneys, cut in half, was repurposed as a children’s slide in a local elementary school, but it was closed for merger in 2005. Repurposed again, with a concrete reconstruction replacing the missing half, this portion was turned into the “Ghost Chimney Monument” and installed in front of the Teikyo University of Science’s Senju campus, overlooking the Sumida River as it once did.

Know Before You Go

The monument is about 25 minutes away from Kita-Senju Station, near Otake Bridge.

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January 4, 2024

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