Say hello to Shuetsu Sato, the man whose handcrafted packing-tape masterpieces guide millions every day.
If you’ve been to Tokyo’s Shinjiku Station recently, then maybe you’ve seen some packing-tape kanji signs like this near construction areas:
▼ Like this one that says “stay to the left.”
▼ Or this one that guides passengers to the staircase.
These packing-tape signs weren’t made by a team of construction workers, nor will you be able to find them at many other stations in Japan. That’s because these signs are all one-of-a-kind handcrafted pieces made by a single man, the world’s only master of packing-tape calligraphy: Shuetsu Sato.
▼ The man himself posing next to his big,
bright signs for “central exit” and “east exit.”
Shuetsu Sato was a bit of a big deal ten years ago when he first started making his packing-tape signs in Shinjuku Station. He was in the news, on TV, and even wrote a book to teach people how to write kanji out of packing tape.
But ever since then, his packing-tape masterpieces have faded away from stations and people forgot about the master of sticky kanji.
Until recently. RocketNews24’s very own Mr. Sato was walking through Shinjuku Station just the other day when he saw a sign… a packing-tape sign.
▼ The prophecy foretold that his return
would be heralded by packing-tape kanji.
Mr. Sato contacted the station to see if Shuetsu Sato (no relation, unfortunately) was still working there, and after a bit of working his Mr. Sato magic, was able to set up a time to interview the packing-tape artist himself in person.
▼ I’m getting a very “packing-tape Santa Claus” vibe from him.
ミスタニスタ柴垣(黒T白ガム野郎) (@DoGeZa_to_you) September 09, 2016
Mr. Sato was finally able to ask him all the questions he wanted, and he started with the obvious: what made him start making signs out of packing-tape in the first place?
Here’s his response:
“I started working my current job as a station officer 13-14 years ago. The first time I went to Shinjuku Station was around 2002. Shinjuku Station was my first post, and it was under construction at the time, so I had to guide passengers using a megaphone.
But there were so many people. Guiding them all with just my voice was impossible. Most of the people couldn’t even hear me. So I decided to make some signs to guide people that would really stand out.”
▼ And stand out they do. All of Shuetsu’s packing-tape signs
are giant and immediately recognizable with his unique font.
Usually the construction supervisor is supposed to be in charge of putting out signs to guide people, but at that time the supervisor had gotten too busy and didn’t get around to putting out the signs yet. That resulted in some exchanges with passengers that made Shuetsu even more adamant about making his own signs:
“Back then, there were people who didn’t know where to go to board their train. So they’d ask me, and I’d tell them, ‘It’s over there.’ Then they’d come back a little later all angry and say, ‘I missed my train!’
So with my signs, not only was I able to guide people to their trains more easily without having to tell each one individually where to go, but I didn’t get yelled at by them anymore either (laughs).”
▼ It’s unclear where or not Shuetsu checks up on his signs daily to ask
if they’ve been yelled at, but chances are the anger levels are lower.
Mr. Sato then asked Shuetsu about the sudden rebirth of his packing-tape kanji signs. Shuetsu said that the reason for it was passengers’ safety during station construction.
“About three years ago I was reassigned to Shinjuku Station. We’re currently undergoing some big construction and the staircases to the train platforms were very narrow. When the security guard is out there guiding people it’s fine, but when he isn’t, it’s good to have a big sign that stands out and tells people where to go. For the past month or so I’ve been making signs like ‘stay to the left,’ ‘staircase,’ and ‘watch your step.'”
▼ And cones of different colors to match each subway line,
like yellow for the Sobu Line…
▼ …orange for the Central Line…
▼ …and dark blue for the Central Main Line.
When asked about how long it takes him to make the signs, Shuetsu admitted that since he does everything by himself, each one takes many hours.
“I’ve thought about it myself too. Why am I doing all this even though nobody ever asked me to? But, even though I’m making the signs without anyone asking me, if I think about it from the passengers’ safety point of view, then the signs are absolutely necessary. It’s easier when there are signs around, and they’re especially necessary for older passengers.”
▼ Shuetsu shows us how he plans out a packing-tape sign.
▼ A plan for how the kanji 夢 (“dream”) would be packing-taped out.
▼ Here’s some more of Shuetsu’s packing-tape signs,
showing how intricate he can get with the bathroom sign too.
▼ Yup, that map is all made out of packing-tape.
▼ A bunch more really beautiful Shuetsu-sign spottings.
MIHO (@_meipooh) August 29, 2015
Shuetsu Sato still works at Shibuya Station, so if you’re there and you’re lucky enough to see one of his packing-tape signs, just remember – it was handcrafted by a man who spent hours putting love into every strip of tape, wanting nothing more than to make sure you got to your destination safe and on time.
[ Read in Japanese ]