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Tsuneko Sasamoto: the first Japanese Photojournalist who still works at 105 years

3 min read

Tsuneko Sasamoto was born in Tokyo on September 1st 1914. Although photography had been invented the previous century, it was still a not very common practice, mostly a studio work. World War I had begun a little over a month, television was far in the future and some of the inventions that would have characterized the 20th century, such as airplanes, telephones or cars, were in the early stages of dissemination.

Tsuneko grows in the Japanese capital, and manages to become the first female photojournalist in her country, shortly before the American bombs that massacre the city in 1945.
She became a professional photographer at 25, and garnered attention for her photos of pre- and post-war Japan, images that are great classics of reporting photography, and tell the story of evolution not only of Tokyo but of the whole country. Her photographs highlighted the country’s dramatic transition from a totalitarian regime to a capitalist-based economic superpower, with all the social implications that followed.

Dome in Hirosima after bombing, 1953:

Zaikeinews reports that Ms. Sasamoto’s inborn curiosity has always driven her to work. “Pretty scared but curious, don’t like it but want to see it. I feel compelled to face the world and let people know what I see, just want to have the pictures taken…” she said.
A close friend of hers, Tetsuya Terashima, an editor, testifies that Ms. Sasamoto’s “way of photography” never budged through her 70-year career as a photojournalist. “She has seen plenty of roughness, but she kept steadfast and courageous. People feel it through her work“, he says.

Tsuneko is now 105 years old, and continues to take her images with an enthusiasm often unknown to people younger than her.
Her latest works include a 2011 photo book called Hyakusai no Finder or Centenarian’s Finder. In 2015 Inquisitive Girl, 101 is published, but in the same year the photojournalist was victim of an accident in which the left hand and both legs broke. The injured, of course, would have stopped anyone at this age, but not Tsuneko.

She has in fact continued his professional activity, and she is now undergoing rehab while photographing flowers for a project titled “Hana Akari,” or “Flower Glow,” a tribute to friends who have passed away.
In my own way I believe man and flowers are deeply correlated. As I think of my dear friends, I want to relate each one of them with flowers and let flowers deliver them my appreciation, impression….” she tells.
Determined not to be discouraged by the difficulties of physical recovery, despite her age, she managed to regain much of the functionality of broken limbs.

Interviewed by NHK, she explained her longevity secret:

You should never become lazy. It’s essential to remain positive about your life and never give up. You need to push yourself and stay aware, so you can move forward.

Below, a video shows the photographer who tells her life:

Geisha School, 1951:

Politician Inejiro Asanuma, 1955:

Antarctic ship Soya, 1956:

Soho Tokutomi, 1957:

Sources: NHK, Zaikeinews. Images from Web.

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