Tsuneko Sasamoto is one of Japan’s first woman photo-journalists. Born on September 1st, 1914, she is also one of the country’s oldest photographers, and despite breaking her hand and both legs in 2015, is still taking photos. Sasamoto has undergone rehab while continuing to photograph flowers for a project titled “Hana Akari,” or “Flower Glow,” a tribute to friends who have passed away.
Sasamoto was born September 1, 1914, in Tokyo, Japan. She went to college and at first studied home economics, but soon left that field of study because she had an ambition to become a painter. After initially dropping out, she enrolled in an institute of painting, without asking or telling her parents, and a dressmaking school.
Her career began as a part time illustrator at a local paper in Tokyo. Sasamoto became a professional photographer at 25, and garnered attention for her photos of pre- and post-war Japan. She was a member of the Photographic Society of Japan and officially became the first female photojournalist. She says that Margaret Bourke-White was a major influence in her life.
It seems her inborn curiosity has always driven her work. She said she was, “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 has taken pictures of Burmese dignitaries; the Japan-America Student Conference; the Tripartite Pact Women’s Society between Japan, Germany, and Italy; and Hitler Youth. In 1950 the Japan Professional Photographers Society was established and she became one of the founding members.
In 1960, 20 years into her career, the campaign against the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty occurred. In 1968 Ms. Sasamoto visited Europe for the first time, and from there on she traveled to various countries all over the world. Ms. Sasamoto’s lifetime work has been focused on taking pictures of independent-minded women who have struggled through the hard times of the Meiji Era, when women did not have much freedom or much choice in life.
Sasamoto photographed subjects from General Douglas MacArthur during the American occupation of Japan to striking coalminers and protesting students.
She published a photo book in 2011 called Hyakusai no Finder, or Centenarian’s Finder. In 2014, Sasamoto had an exhibit of her work from her 2011 book called Hyakusai Ten, or, Centenarian’s Exhibition. In 2015, Sasamoto published another book, Inquisitive Girl at 101.