Nagoya, Japan-based photographer Ben Weller has been working with National Geographic Traveller (UK) since 2019 after a friend who is a writer for the publication recommended his work. Since then, he’s photographed several travel stories. Recently, he was commissioned to capture the historic Kansai region for a series of sponsored articles for the Kansai Tourism Bureau.
We did a story together in Seoul, and I had a couple of other stories with them under my belt when this project with the Kansai Tourism Bureau came up. I live in Nagoya, which borders the Kansai region of Japan, so I was conveniently located and had the experience they were looking for on this project.
The series, which includes a story on Kansai’s culinary traditions, its impressive landscapes, and its sake history, required Ben to take on writing and photography, immersing himself in the project. He had done some writing for the magazine in the past, so they were confident he had the skills and expertise to take this on and execute it well.
This was a wide-ranging story. I think having a portfolio that includes everything from action to food photography, and environmental portraiture was helpful. I was also writing the story, which required lots of interviews and research.
Kansai is a region in south-central Honshu, the main island of Japan. It includes cities like Osaka and Kyoto and has incredible natural beauty — from mountains and bamboo forests to the Seto Inland Sea. The area is also known for its culinary traditions. Over time, many of the dishes originating from the region have become a standard in Japanese cooking.
It has a rich history of food, making the area really central to the development of Japanese cuisine. If you come to Japan, you could spend weeks exploring the area and not come close to experiencing all it has to offer.
For the assignment, Ben traveled through the region with two staff members from the tourism bureau, So Takeuchi and Sagawa Kazuki. With a packed schedule, he interviewed several people involved with food in the region, including the women of Ise-Shima. These women continue the tradition of sea diving for shellfish and cook it in their kamados, a seaside hut where visitors can dine on the fresh seafood.
Along the way, we met many chefs, farmers, sea divers, and sake brewers. Everyone was friendly, professional, knowledgeable, and eager to help.
The food was just incredible everywhere we went. But honestly, I had so much fun shooting this. I would’ve been happy just shooting all day and eating from Konbini (Japanese convenience stores).
Because they were visiting an extensive area and meeting so many people for the story, Ben had a full itinerary. Getting enough rest between interviewing and photographing subjects while traveling from one location to another was going to be a challenge. To complete the assignment, he needed to work quickly, within the time constraints. However, Ben believes that allowing yourself a few moments to take in what’s happening around you is absolutely crucial.
I often had to work fast and would’ve liked to slow down and spend more time in some places. A few deep breaths, though, taking a moment to really look at the scene and watch people — that makes a difference and leads to stronger, more unique images. This was truly the trip of a lifetime.