If you’ve watched your fair share of Food Network (haven’t we all?), you’ve probably seen sea urchins used in a dish. While I’m not sure I’ve ever actually come across uni—the edible organs of a sea urchin—on a menu here in the States, the spiky, delightful little creatures are considered a delicacy in Japanese cooking.
Sea urchins can be found in many different regions, but the kelp-rich sea surrounding Japan’s Shakotan Peninsula is well known as the best place to fish two prized species of sea urchin that produce some of the best uni in the world. Last month, Bangkok-based photographer Aaron Joel Santos traveled to Hokkaido—Japan’s second largest island that is home to the Shakotan Peninsula—to shoot a story on their famous uni for Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia.
This assignment sat pretty squarely in the center of what I love to do: travel photography with a bit of a documentary twist. It ticked all the boxes, basically. Unique and beautiful locale, interesting subject matter, a kind of grassroots industry (in that most of the uni fishermen we met worked for themselves and whose families were involved in uni fishing for several generations) and an overall story that told an intriguing, sea-to-table narrative.
Check out some of Aaron’s photos from the trip:
Aaron worked closely with the Japan National Tourism Organization (JNTO) to arrange travel and guides throughout Hokkaido. Even with a month of prepping and a strict schedule, challenges still arose. As with any assignment, the weather was unpredictable:
When we arrived in Bikuni along the Shakotan peninsula, we were trying to go out on the water with a local fisherman. But the weather had turned really bad the night before and all boats were grounded for the day. A common occurrence, I was to find out later. We managed to work around it, and still got all of the photos we needed, as we found a fisherman cleaning a previous catch further down the coast. These kinds of weather problems plagued several days of the journey, but overall, it was nothing I hadn’t dealt with before on other shoots.
According to Aaron, reception to the story and the images has been wonderful. The magazine loved the package and Aaron is already working on his next story with them. Working in a more controlled environment with a rigid schedule was a new experience for him, but he was happy to utilize the creative freedom given to him by the magazine to come out with a final product that pleased everyone.
I think if you aren’t learning something new on every assignment, then you’re doing something wrong. This particular assignment was great, because I learned what it was like to work with several different agencies and creative teams, especially in terms of planning and execution … it felt like a great collaboration, and one that produced a final product that everyone was happy with. I’m looking forwarded to working with everyone involved again in the near future.
Check out more of Aaron’s work on his website, aaronjoelsantos.com.