By RYOKO NAKAMURA, Rafu Japanese Staff Writer
TORRANCE — “Unlike the carpenter’s work that lasts long generation after generation, my work isn’t very durable. Because it is so ephemeral, I offer only the freshest custom arrangements. Since my clients only have about a week to enjoy the design, I want every moment to be exquisite.”
Takeshi Nakamura, owner of Angeluck, a Torrance-based custom-design floral shop, acquired a creative and unique set of design skills as a result of growing up in the floral industry.
As the second son of a florist in Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, he was drawn into the beauty of flowers at young age — even before he realized it himself.
When he was on his way to join the early morning radio gymnastic exercises, which are popular in Japan during the summer, a deep blue morning glory in his neighbor’s front yard caught his eye.
The beautiful color took his breath away. The flower petal, glistening with morning dew, captivated his heart. As he stared at the flower, he was absolutely fascinated with its beauty. He was only nine years old.
After high school, he studied floral arrangements at a prestigious floral technical college in Tokyo, and found a mentor, Isao Ikeda, who won the Prime Minister’s Prize for floral arrangements with his novel design ideas. Ikeda taught Nakamura to think outside the box, and that idea is still alive in Nakamura’s designs.
From America to Holland
Planning to open his own shop near the U.S. military housing base in Zushi, Kanagawa Prefecture, he prepared by learning English and completing a three-month training program at a Chicago-based florist.
As soon as he stepped into the American floral industry, he was shocked to see how advanced everything was, from the design aspects to the management. Three months weren’t enough. He enrolled in ESL classes at California State University Northridge to study more.
During spring vacation, he went to Holland, then the world’s largest flower producer, to study under a well-known florist, Piet van der Burg, who earned the world champion title twice. There, he learned the significant differences between Japan, America, and Holland.
Based on those experiences, he fully understands that one’s impression of flowers and floral design deeply reflects culture, religion, and climate.
When someone gives flowers to senior citizens in Japan, low-key colors are preferred, yet here in the U.S., vivid colors that represent more energy are widely accepted. In Holland, on the other hand, they tend to appreciate colorless or very faintly colored flowers.
“It is impossible to appeal to everyone with just one design,” said Nakamura. He considers each customer’s background when designing arrangements. Cultural sensitivity has been the key to his success, which eventually enabled him to open a custom-design flower shop in the U.S.
After graduation from CSUN, Nakamura opened his first shop on Melrose in Los Angeles in 1990. He wanted to see how his creativity, innovative designs, and passion would be accepted in the U.S.
His unique design ideas that integrate of Japanese, American, and Dutch themes were a big hit, but around the same time, the Gulf War broke out and the U.S. economy took a turn for the worse. As a result, his business suffered soon after opening.
By contrast, Japan was in the heyday of the “bubble economy.” His friends made fun of him opening his first store in the U.S. instead of Japan, where all the businesses were going strong.
Nakamura, however, was on a mission. “I wanted to be accepted by my father, who believed in oldest-son supremacy.” Nakamura envied his older brother, who was guaranteed at birth to take over their father’s business in Kamakura.
Nakamura always put in extra work and won many awards; however, those certificates were never hung on the wall. “No matter how much effort I exerted, no matter how talented I was, my father never accepted me as number one. My older brother was always number one.”
To challenge himself, he relocated to a different county where there was no older brother to compete with for the number one position. “Although I wasn’t trying to surpass my brother, I just didn’t want to come off second-best at all times,” said Nakamura.
In 1997, Nakamura sold his shop on Melrose for one-third of the price he had initially paid for it. He was exhausted. His oldest son, who was born in 1995, was diagnosed with autism. Raising a son, arranging for his therapy, and taking care of an ailing business all at the same time proved to be impossible.
“Closing my store was a complete concession,” said Nakamura. He finally got over the oldest-son supremacy issue and the need he’d been harboring for his father’s approval. “I stopped comparing myself to my brother. I decided to do what I really wanted.”
He is unsure if his father, who passed away ten years ago, knew about his struggles. “I now understand, though, my brother’s feeling, too. He wasn’t even given a choice about what he wanted to be in the future. His future was already set no matter what. It must have been a lot of pressure to be passed something to protect for the next generation. I, on the other hand, had a lot of freedom. I am now thankful for that.”
Not a Typical Floral Shop
Nakamura made a clean start in Torrance with his wife and two sons. He developed his new business ideas by putting himself in the mind of the customers, instead of thinking about how to impress his father.
He innovated a system of going to the flower market after taking orders, so as to avoid carrying a vast inventory. The system has made it possible to offer fresh flowers straight from the market to customers, while also lowering the price.
Based on his experience, certain types of flowers and colors have to be avoided for some ethnicities, religions, and occasions. Since Nakamura does not own a typical floral shop, customers can no longer walk in and choose floral arrangements off the shelf. Therefore, he takes extra time to give his full attention, making sure he understands what the customers want when he receives orders.
Utilizing all the skills he learned in Japan, America, and Holland as well as his natural talent, Nakamura continues providing unique designs of exquisite quality. “I’ve never made a floral arrangement that I couldn’t explain. If you don’t like the design, I won’t charge you,” Nakamura said.
He has also been working to promote Japanese culture through floral arrangements. For example, he introduced a very popular gift for new restaurants in Japan, floral stands, to the U.S.
The gifts soon became a big hit. The stands are only chosen as gifts to new restaurants in Japan, but here, Nakamura has already received several orders from realtors sending stands to clients who recently purchased homes.
“Because my products last only a week or so, I make sure to offer the best,” he said. “I’ve never created anything thinking about profits. My customers’ smiles and their appreciation for my designs mean everything to me.”
For more info about Angeluck, visit www.angeluck.com, call (310) 539-3838, or email [email protected]