Considered Japan’s first female photojournalist, Tsuneko Sasamoto celebrated her 101st birthday this past September. The renowned photographer has been living her passion for 76 years and is still taking photos to this very day.
Born on Sept. 1, 1914, Sasamoto began her career as a professional photographer at the age of 25. As one of the oldest photographers on earth, Sasamoto has captured important moments in history including pre- and post-war Japan. She was honored with the 16th Diamond Lady Prize in 2001 and the Eiji Yoshikawa Culture Prize in 2011.
According to Zaikeinews, she remarked on the spark that drove her to photography during a TV interview:
“I feel compelled to face the world and let people know what I see, just want to have the pictures taken…”
Sasamoto has spent a good part of her career focused on shooting women and unsung heroines of the Meiji (1868-1912) and early Showa (1926-89) eras. Having captured their strength and determination against gender discrimination, Sasamoto told DNP:
“These were independent, strong women who broke all the molds. Women in the Meiji era were so oppressed.”
“Japan was far behind the West in terms of gender rights until World War Two. Nowadays there’s so much freedom, but women aren’t taking advantage of it.”
Sasamoto only recently stepped into the limelight during her mid-90s, as she revealed:
“People in Japan are so obsessed with age. When I was 70 I didn’t want people to tell me I was too old to be a photographer. So I just kept my age a secret.”
She told NHK:
“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. That’s what I want people to know.”
The photographer is currently working on a collection of photographs called “Hana Akari (Flower Glow),” which she is dedicating to her friends who have passed. She said:
“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.”
“I think there’s a deep connection between flowers and human beings. I want to leave something for flowers, something that I’ve been taught, appreciation and impression.”
Despite breaking her left hand and both legs last year, Sasamoto is determined to continue photography after her rehabilitation:
“I want to work until I die. There are way too many things I want to take pictures of.”
In 2011, she published a photo book at 97 years old.
On her 100th birthday last year, Sasamoto celebrated with an exhibition entitled “100 Years of Japan’s First Female Photojournalist Tsuneko Sasamoto” at the Japan Newspaper Museum in Tokyo.