There is only one person in the country who has “Tokyo Station photographer” printed on a business card — Naoki Sasaki.
However, the 53-year-old is not employed by East Japan Railway Co. as a photographer. Instead, Sasaki fell in love with trains during elementary school and has now been photographing the 100-year-old terminal and the trains it services for more than 40 years.
“I wanted to do something that no one had done before. Tokyo Station is not just a terminal — it’s a tourism landmark,” Sasaki tells The Japan Times. “Nevertheless, there are still plenty of things people don’t know about it. I could stare at the station all day and find every single detail fascinating.”
Sasaki has read countless books and documents pertaining to the station, which will officially celebrate its 100th birthday on Dec. 20. He has also spent a great deal of time reading everything he can about the station’s designer, Kingo Tatsuno, and has even visited the architect’s ancestral home in Saga Prefecture. So familiar is Sasaki with Tatsuno’s work that he even knows which angles best highlight the architect’s designs.
Standing with Sasaki outside Tokyo Station recently, it became immediately obvious there was little he didn’t know.
The flower reliefs on the southern rotunda — on which renovation work was completed in 2012 — are in fact clematis, or traveler’s joy, Sasaki says, adding that the yellow-colored dome was recreated after developers found an entry in the station’s original documents for a roof that was the color of an egg yolk.
“Tatsuno was so particular about every single detail,” Sasaki says. “There are only so many things you can learn about a building or a person from 100 years ago and I wanted to find out as much as I could.”
Sasaki is a contract employee for a logistics company by day and a freelance photographer in the evenings and on his days off. He passes through Tokyo Station every day as he transfers from the Marunouchi Subway Line to the JR Keiyo Line. The two lines are separated by a 12-minute walk between each ticket gate — the farthest transit distance in the entire terminal.
“I am so lucky that my lines are so far apart,” Sasaki says with a laugh. “I have an unlimited selection of routes to choose from. I suspect that only the station master would know more than me when it comes to noticing any subtle differences on a daily basis.”
Despite his long-standing fascination with Tokyo Station, Sasaki recalls being disappointed when he first heard about plans to renovate the terminal and restore the red-brick facade to its original appearance before World War II. Fearing the Tokyo Station he loved would disappear, he decided to spend as much time as he could documenting its final few years.
“Rail enthusiasts are driven by an urge to photograph things that are on the cusp of disappearing,” Sasaki says. “Some like to photograph trains that are being retired. In my case, I’ve tried to ensure Tokyo Station is able to be remembered as it once looked forever.”
Sasaki spent several years photographing Tokyo Station each season, snapping pictures of the terminal sitting majestically behind cherry trees in spring and gingko trees in late autumn.
He has contrasted it against the skyscrapers that have risen in the background, as well as the newer variations of shinkansen that have pulled up with a sigh at its platforms.
Indeed, he left no angle untouched, a feat that allowed him to work with Nihon Shashin Kikaku and publish a collection of photographs in 2008 that provided a last glimpse of how Tokyo Station looked before it was renovated.
On Dec. 17, a second book titled “Tokyo Eki 100 Kenbunroku” (“One Hundred Memoirs of Tokyo Station”) is scheduled to go on sale by the same publisher. In it, Sasaki introduces 100 episodes and bits of trivia related to the terminal that should help readers understand the historical details to keep an eye out for when visiting the station.
“The fact that I am able to witness the 100th anniversary of Tokyo Station at this point in my life is amazing,” Sasaki says. “My next dream is to become a walking dictionary on Tokyo Station.”
It’s an admirable goal and certainly one that will take up a little more space on his business card.
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