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For Tokyo's Bus Spotters, The Olympics Really Are All About The Journey

Aug 5, 2021
Originally published on August 5, 2021 1:24 pm

TOKYO — Outside the Tokyo 2020 media press center and Olympic venues, amateur photographers are snapping pictures. Not of the people, but the hundreds of buses shuttling foreign journalists, athletes and officials.

You can spot the bus spotters snapping shots of the vehicles labeled with funny names in English, like "Ina Bus," and "Hiya, Tokyo." Lots of them are labeled with the Japanese word "kanko," meaning sightseeing.

Yuki Sato spends hours on one street corner, taking pictures of all the buses that pass him. Why? I ask.

"Hobby, hobby," he says. It's his hobby.

Bus spotting is like train spotting. Not the 1996 movie Trainspotting, which is about heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland. But bus spotting: Enthusiasts who like to photograph the buses. It's a popular past time in Hong Kong, Singapore and other parts of the world too.

University student Jun Yasazaki posts his bus photos on Twitter and Instagram.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR

"It's not normal. Not normal at all," says Tomo Fukuda, a travel adviser working at Tokyo 2020's tourism office at the Olympics. She says not only is it not normal, she has another name for these photographers: "Some of them are ... how do you say, geek? They are bus geeks."

Fukuda says while Tokyo remains in a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, tourism is not permitted. She says the sightseeing buses are now strictly devoted to the Olympics.

"We are curious about your media people's behavior, taking the shuttle buses to your hotel or Olympic venues or competition venues. You are not allowed to walk around freely. Right. So that's why, you know, you need to you must use unit and shuttle services."

Another bus spotter is university student Jun Yasazaki, who says he's been bus spotting every day for the past four years. I find him sweating in the hot sun taking shots he then posts on Twitter and Instagram.

Yasazaki like the buses with colorful signs on the sides ... especially the "Toie" buses, green and orange. "Toie bus is my favorite bus service," he says. "It looks cool."

Yuki Sato spends hours every day taking photos of buses in Tokyo. It's his hobby.
Mandalit del Barco / NPR

Down the street from him is Ryotaro Mori, who says he's been bus spotting for 30 years, since he was 12 years old. When he's not working as a commercial photographer, he leaves his wife and two young children at home to snap the buses with his 70- 200 millimeter lens.

He figures he takes about a thousand or two thousand photos of the buses every day. He just saves them on his computer, which has a big hard drive. He says he doesn't really even look at the photos afterwards. He just like shooting the buses that whoosh by.

I ask if he ever rides any of these buses, or if he's at all curious about anyone on them, like the Olympic athletes. Not really, he says.

"My Olympics is taking bus pictures," he says.

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Outside the Tokyo 2020 media center and Olympic venues, amateur photographers are snapping pictures, not of the people, but of the hundreds of buses shuttling foreign journalists, athletes and officials. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: You can spot the bus spotters snapping shots of the vehicles labeled with funny names in English, like Ina Bus and Hiya, Tokyo. Lots of them are labeled with the Japanese word kanko, meaning sightseeing. Yuki Sato spends hours on one street corner taking pictures of all the buses that pass him.

Why?

YUKI SATO: (Laughter) Hobby, hobby.

DEL BARCO: It's your hobby?

SATO: Hobby, hobby, hobby.

DEL BARCO: Bus spotting is like train spotting - not the 1996 movie "Trainspotting," which is about heroin addicts, but bus spotting, enthusiasts who like to photograph the buses. It's a popular pastime in Hong Kong, Singapore and other parts of the world, too.

TOMO FUKUDA: It's not normal, not normal at all.

DEL BARCO: Tomo Fukuda is a travel adviser working at Tokyo 2020's tourism office at the Olympics. She says not only is it not normal, she has another name for these photographers.

FUKUDA: How do you say geek, jeek (ph)? I don't know - geek.

DEL BARCO: Geeks?

FUKUDA: Geeks. They are geeks of, you know - bus geeks.

DEL BARCO: She says while Tokyo remains in a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, tourism is not permitted. She says the sightseeing buses are now strictly devoted to the Olympics.

FUKUDA: We are curious about your media people because you are not allowed to, you know, walk around freely, right? So you must use, you know, shuttle services.

DEL BARCO: Jun Yasazaki is a university student who says he's been bus spotting every day for the past four years. I find him sweating in the hot sun, taking shots he then posts online.

JUN YASAZAKI: Twitter and Instagram.

DEL BARCO: Yasazaki likes the buses with colorful signs on the sides, especially the Toie buses, green and orange.

SATO: Toie bus is my favorite bus service. Looks is cool.

DEL BARCO: It looks cool?

SATO: Yeah.

DEL BARCO: Yeah (laughter).

Ryotaro Mori says he's been bus spotting for 30 years, since he was 12 years old. When he's not working as a commercial photographer, he leaves his wife and two young children at home to snap the buses with his 200 mm lens. He figures he takes about a thousand or 2,000 photos of the buses every day. He just saves them on his computer.

You must not have very much storage in your computer left.

RYOTARO MORI: Oh, yes, very big hard drive.

DEL BARCO: I ask if he ever rides any of these buses or if he's curious about anyone on them, like the Olympic athletes? Not really, he says.

MORI: My Olympics is just take bus, take buses.

DEL BARCO: Bus spotting is his Olympic pastime.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News, Tokyo.

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