If you are fond of the plant arrangements in lifestyle magazine, Kinfolk, you will definitely fall in love with Takako Mine’s plant designs.
Her works are simple and elegant, with her exquisite artistic sense expressed through the plants. Although she has been receiving positive comments along with her growing career, settling down in Taiwan as a florist, was never a plan she had even dreamed of.
“As long as you insist on originality and creativity, art can be very diverse, without a limited form.”
Mine was born and raised in Roppongi, Tokyo. Her father, half Japanese and half Indonesian, ran an Indonesian restaurant in the neighborhood. Sociable and adventurous, Mine has inherited an outgoing personality from her father, who taught her to always greet people with a smile. At school, she found herself more interested in creativity and art, rather than traditional academic studies. After studying early childhood education for a semester at a university in Japan, she decided to quit, and instead applied to the School of Visual Arts in New York, using a portfolio of knitting projects she had done. She was accepted.
In the Big Apple, she had the chance to explore sculpture, female art, window design, and many other art forms, all of which nurtured and expanded her imagination in respect to art. “As long as you insist on originality and creativity, art can be very diverse, without a limited form.”
After receiving her Master’s degree in Fine Art, she went back to Tokyo, but felt confused about her career path. Her father even asked her if she was interested in becoming a flight attendant. At the same time, a manager of a flower shop in the neighborhood was about to start her own florist business, and, having worked together before, asked Mine if she would join her. That invitation became the start of Mine’s career as a florist.
Over the next two years, Mine worked in different flower shops, and finally had the opportunity to join a florist opened by H.P. FRANCE, a Japanese company famous for its select shops.
Soon her art background and language ability helped her to win the position of buyer, traveling around Europe for business, which also broadened her experience in the field of fashion and lifestyle. From this experience she was able to confirm that the fashion business was not the right job for her, but, it did enable her to return to being a florist with even more exquisite and refined taste. Her plant designs soon caught the eyes of the historical lifestyle publication Magazine House, and F&B company DEAN&DELUCA, bringing her career to another level.
“The 2011 Japan Earthquake brought me to Taiwan, but it is Taiwanese’s friendliness that made me stay.”
In 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The devastating disaster changed the lives of many people, including Mine and her family. Holding her 3-year-old daughter and watching the news on TV, all that she could think of was protecting her and keeping her safe. On the advice of one of her husband’s friends the family decided to fly to Taiwan.
“I had never been to Taiwan at that time. I wasn’t good at history, and I didn’t even know that Taiwan had been colonized by Japan. I thought Taiwan was maybe similar to Hong Kong or China, but when I first came to Taiwan after the earthquake, I found that Taiwan was actually closer to Japan,” revealed Mine.
Mine’s husband commuted between Taiwan and Japan so that he could manage his own company, which was based in Japan. This left Mine and her daughter alone in a business apartment in Taiwan. Alone and in a foreign country without any friends or relatives, she kept telling herself to be brave for her daughter. “It’s okay. We’re only going to stay here for a few days” she kept telling herself.
As the recovery from the severe earthquake was uncertain, she kept extending her stay in Taiwan. Raising a child on her own in a foreign country was not easy. She had no friends, no job, and no plans for her life, beyond keeping her daughter safe. The highlight of each day was taking her daughter out for a walk in her stroller. Often the intense isolation, loneliness and feeling of helplessness overwhelmed her late at night and she cried herself to sleep.
Soon 6 months passed. One day, she lost her way on the streets, and asked for directions from a lady who happened to speak English. Coincidentally, Mine bumped into the lady again at the MRT station the next day. The “reunion” started them talking, and Mine shared her story all the way through. Beyond any expectation, the lady asked Mine for her phone number, wanting to help her find an apartment to settle down. “Oh my God, my mom always taught me not to give strangers my phone number. Should I trust her? Well, maybe she’s just being polite. She won’t really call me anyway!” said Mine, recalling her hesitation in her mind.
The next day, her phone rang, and with the help of this kindly stranger, she smoothly found a first-floor apartment with a garage. Mine then literally started her life in Taiwan.
“It’s pity that Taiwanese don’t seem to know that their local plants are so beautiful.”
After her daughter started to go to school, Mine began to build relationships with the other parents. When she posted her plant designs on Facebook, she always received a lot of “likes” for them. Her reputation was built quickly through social media and word-of-mouth. Soon, more formal invitations came to her, which encouraged her to register her own florist company in Taiwan.
One day, when she helped the Japanese magazine she worked with to deliver products to xiaoqi, a Japanese-style lifestyle brand, she met the owner of the brand. They enjoyed sharing their life aesthetics with each other, and the owner invited Mine to cooperate with her. A few months later, xuaoqi was preparing to open a new store, and Mine was further invited to open a flower shop together within the space. This coincidental meeting unexpectedly helped Mine to achieve another milestone in her career.
If you walk into her studio in xiaoqi, you will see all kinds of greens around you. Surprisingly, they are all plants of Taiwan. “Taiwan’s plants are very unique. Especially the plants growing in the high mountains, they are very tough, very beautiful and they live longer. It’s a pity that the plants we see in local florist markets are all carnations, roses, or other flowers imported from Japan. Taiwanese don’t seem to know that their local plants are so pretty,” said Mine.
Be brave to ask for what you need.
Once she found a flower farmer selling plants with extraordinary quality. Based on her previous experience as a buyer, she knew that she could definitely find the best products if she traced them to the source. She asked the farmer to show his farm to her, but was turned down straightforwardly and firmly.
Not wanting to lose the chance to obtain quality plant materials, she instead took a taxi up to the mountain to find the flower farm herself. “Taiwanese people are just so nice. When the farmer saw me, although he narrowed his eyes, he only said ‘So, you came. Alright.’” Later, the farmer even drove her back to the foot of the mountain.
Mine was right. The high mountain flower farm had organic and edible flowers and vegetables, as well as other high mountain plants which can’t be grown in the lowlands. “Honestly, I don’t think I have outstanding skills of plant design. The credit goes to my suppliers who are able to provide spectacular plants! What I’m good at is using my buyer experience to find unique plants, and to make my works second-to-none.”
She asks every question she has, and makes friends with whomever she meets. When she has time, she often visits lifestyle and design events. Seeing new brands, meeting new designers, she enjoys finding quality materials or products she needs for her plant designs, such as fabrics, lighting, candles, etc. “I enjoy working with young Taiwanese designers. We can talk in English, and share our ideas from different perspectives,” said Mine. “Taiwan’s lifestyle industry has grown very fast in the past four years. When I first came to Taiwan, there were only few brands having plant design, but now there are many new brands emerging and prospering!”
Mine feels lucky to be a part of the growing trend of the lifestyle industry in Taiwan. She especially feels thankful that although her clients are increasing, she is still able to strike a balance between children-care and career. “This is impossible if I were not in Taiwan, I guess.” She shared many examples of “Taiwan-only” experiences she has: Taiwanese people try their best to assist you if you sincerely ask for help. Her neighbors call her in concern after typhoons strike. If she can’t finish work on time, her friends help her to take care of her daughter after school.
Mine deeply appreciates all of the good things that have happened to her, and how lucky she has been. She humbly said that she just likes to make friends, like her father does. During the interview, however, we discovered that her “luckiness” is not pure luck. One of the keys to her success in a foreign country, is the courage to ask for what she needs to move forward. She is good at creating her own “luck”.
Born in 1976. After graduated from School of Visual Art in New York with a degree in Fine Art, she became a florist in Tokyo, and later worked as a buyer in H.P. France. Moving to Taiwan four years ago, Mine is now the florist in Nettle Plants and the owner of Florist violet.