Mint Images is a UK-based photography agency committed to creating and supplying authentic imagery. The team works with a small group of world-class assignment photographers to plan, prepare, and produce commercial photographs that are natural and reflect reality. Their most recent collection, aptly titled Kodawari, the Japanese term for devotion to craft, encapsulates the spirit of Japan.

Rows of traditional wooden sandals with thick soles and red straps worn by geisha, okobo or geta.

The idea for the collection began when one of their photographers traveled to Japan to visit her family. The images from her holiday went on to become best sellers, and upon further market research, Mint Images quickly realized the need for more Japanese content. “We are a global company and we need to make images that are relevant around the world,” explained Creative Director Patrick Donahue.

Typically, Western photo agencies stage foreign shoots in familiar cities with a high Asian population, such as San Francisco. This was one of the gaps in authenticity that Mint images wanted to address with their collection. So rather than setting up a shoot in America or Europe and modeling the set to imitate Asia, they chose to conduct the photo shoot entirely in Japan.

Family home. A mother and her son cuddling.

Understanding the barriers that foreign photographers face in Japan, Mint Images worked with the same half Japanese photographer who provided inspiration for Kodawari. During her six weeks in Japan, she traveled to local factories, artisanal shops, restaurants, businesses and homes to produce a total of eighteen shoots. With her deeply engrained understanding of the subject matter, she was able capture the people and the scenes in an appropriate and authentic way.

Here are some highlights and the stories behind the images of Kodawari.

A Dream of Sushi

When we think of Japanese food, sushi is one of the first things to come to mind. It’s become so prevalent in the West that you can find prepackaged rolls in delis and grocery stores. The true craft behind the food is much more profound and it takes years to master the art of sushi. This series emphasizes the devotion observed behind the counter at an authentic sushi bar, from the preparation of the restaurant, to cooking the rice and slicing the fish, and finally, to the masterfully assembled piece of nigiri.

A chef working in a small commercial kitchen, an itamae or master chef slicing fish with a large knife for making sushi

A chef working in a small commercial kitchen, an itamae or master chef making sushi, pasting sauce on fish.

A Day in the Life

Geishas are a symbol of tradition and femininity in Japan. Today, there are less than a hundred geishas still living and working in the traditional tea houses of Kyoto. They are the guardians of a tradition that is now over 200 years old.

The photographer chronicled a day in the life of a geisha, starting with her painting her face and getting dressed in the morning, to her traveling around the city in a cab and on foot. Tradition and modernity converge, as the geisha, in her historical costume, is placed in a 21st century setting complete with cell phones.

A woman dressed in the traeditional geisha style, wearing a kimono and obi, with an elaborate hairstyle and floral hair clips, with white face makeup with bright red lips and dark eyes in a car using a smart phone.

A woman dressed in the traeditional geisha style, wearing a kimono and obi, with an elaborate hairstyle and floral hair clips, with white face makeup with bright red lips and dark eyes. Standing in a classic pose with fan raised, side view.

The Evolution of Ramen

In the last few years, ramen has become something of a cult food among foodies. More and more authentic ramen joints are opening their doors in major cities around the US and Europe.

Mint Images saw this emerging culinary trend and produced images that show the authenticity and craft behind the noodle soup. The photographer spent two hours behind the scenes as the cooks prepared their ingredients from scratch. She was able to capture the heat, intensity and stamina that goes into create a steaming of bowl of ramen, as well as the happy and satisfied customers.

The ramen noodle shop. A chef working in a kitchen with steam rising from the pots of noodles.

The ramen noodle shop. A chef offering a white bown of ramen noodle broth to a customer

See the entire Kodawari collection by Mint Images on Fotolia.