For more than 30 years, Tomihiro Kubota has followed prime ministers around, accompanying them as an official photographer but always on the lookout for an “unofficial” shot.

“I was a lucky photographer who witnessed through the lenses men who were prominent as prime ministers but just ordinary men away from the mass media,” Kubota said in a June 1 speech marking the Japan Photo Culture Association’s Day of Photography.

Kubota, 77, began his professional career in 1952, first as a photographer for Kyodo News and later for the Tokyo Shimbun. In 1968, he was instrumental in creating a photographic room inside the prime minister’s office during the administration of Eisaku Sato. He became the official photographer for Sato and 15 subsequent prime ministers through 2000.

“Photojournalism was in my blood from my early days as a press photographer,” he said. “I wasn’t satisfied with official photographs.”

Kubota traveled throughout Japan and around the world during his stint as an official photographer.

When Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka visited China in September 1972 to establish diplomatic relations, he became a bit tipsy after drinking glasses of maotai at a welcoming dinner. As Tanaka began to stagger about, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai put his arm around his back to support him — and Kubota was there to capture the moment.

Kubota was also at the White House on many occasions accompanying Japanese leaders, and became acquainted with photographers who covered Ronald Reagan and other U.S. presidents.

Many of the official photographs from the White House show presidents with their wives and families, and Kubota wishes the same were the case in Tokyo.

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