Talk with Nathan Kunigami


Before having any idea that Kintu would grow to have its own physical studio, and we only had a website, I began to love finding interesting new people with unique projects, which spurred me into the position I am in now. One day I discovered Kokuga's Instagram account and looked through the work and thought to myself ‘How cool, I would love to meet this person.’ Out of curiosity, I wrote a message to Nathan, who from the beginning, was very kindly open to meet me. He then showed me his studio in Graça, Lisbon. We met and discussed the creative process of his art along with Brazil.

Now we are meeting for the second time at his pop up in São Bento, where he is showing me his work and we now have the opportunity to talk about his ideas for the future, his beautiful pop up studio, and his evolved creative process. Here is the transcript of the conversation between me and Nathan Kunigami.

Kokuga Lisbon flower pop up

Kintu Studio: Tell me a bit about yourself, where are you from, where did you grow up?

Nathan: I am half Brazilian on my mother’s side and half Japanese on my father’s side. I was born and raised in Rio de Janeiro.

Kintu Studio: How did you get into flowers and how old were you?

Nathan: To be honest, if you had told me 5 years ago that I would be working in floral art, I would have laughed. I’m not sure when exactly I got into flowers, but I have this vague memory of my mom doing this floral arrangement for the entrance of our home and thinking it was very beautiful in the way she did it. My mother also studied and practised Ikebana for a short period, so I believe I had some sort of contact when I was little. When I decided to travel to Japan for the first time I had this idea of doing an Ikebana course, but it’s quite a long one.

Kintu Studio: How long?

Nathan: It can take a few years, especially if you want to become an Ikebana master. That was never really my goal, so when I was in Japan I had the opportunity to take a private class with a local artist in Tokyo. It was a great experience and after that I bought my first Ikebana book and also my scissors, that I still use in my studio until today.

Kokuga flower artist

Kokuga flower artist

The whole trip to Japan was very unique and important to me, because for the first time I could understand this other half of myself and really be in touch with my Japanese culture and heritage.

Kintu Studio: What did you do when you returned to Brazil?

Nathan: When I got back home in Rio, I just kept doing flower arrangements as a hobby. At the time I had a corporate job in hospitality and during the weekends I would go to the flower mart to buy flowers, so I could create something with them, just for fun. Looking back now, these flower sessions really were some sort of meditation for me back then, and still are.

I remember that at this early stage I would try to follow the Ikebana rules at risk until one day I just didn’t. Until this day is one of my favourite pieces. I think it was when I started to find my own style.

Kintu Studio: So, when did you move to Lisbon and why?

Nathan: I moved to Lisbon in September 2018. There was a combination of factors that made that move possible. First is that I’ve always wanted to live abroad. Although I love Rio, I always travelled quite a bit and really wanted to know how would be to live in a different city, a foreign one.

Second reason is that in 2017 I got to a point in my career – after working for 8 years in corporate communications for luxury brands – that I realised for the first time I was doing everything I’ve planned for and was doing it well, but I wasn’t satisfied as I used to. At the same time, my partner (now husband) was living in the US and he also wanted to move somewhere else. Lisbon came up in a conversation and we came to visit in December 2017. We moved next year.

Kintu Studio: And how do you feel now?

Nathan:  I feel I did the right thing, but being an entrepreneur is not easy. I’m aware of the privileges I have that allowed me to quit my corporate job and follow my dreams. But as most entrepreneurs out there, we have ups and downs, moments of self-doubt and it can be quite a lonely journey sometimes. Even if you have family and friends supporting you, at the end of the day it’s your decision who matters and you need to trust yourself. It’s a big learning curve and it has been an amazing one for me so far. It’s great seeing the growth of a project that is so personal to me.

Kintu Studio: Okay, so you’re happy?

Nathan: Very much so.

Kintu Studio: And you’re following your dreams?

Nathan: Definitely, I think I’ve always did.

Kintu Studio: And do you have a favourite flower?

Nathan: Yes, I do, I love the weird ones! Since day one Anthuriums (tail-flowers) and Amaranthus have been my favourite flowers. But currently, I’ve been going through an orchid phase. I just love them; did you know there are more than 25.000 orchids species? 

Kintu Studio: And do you feel like during this whole process, you are changing the way you work, and your compositions are changing as well?

Kokuga flower artist Lisbon

Flowers by Kokuga

Nathan: I’d like to think that I have evolved as a florist and as an artist. We’re all always changing, learning, growing (or at least we should) and the work we do will naturally change with us. Sometimes I revisit past creations and most of the times I feel I’ve evolved. Not only because I understand better the materials but also because in a way I’ve changed as a person too (my perception, references, etc…)

Kintu Studio: How do you see your brand in the future?

Nathan: I would love to see Kokuga in a place where the brand can be self-sustainable and I also wanna have a more balanced way of living. That is probably the main goal which I couldn’t have when I was working corporately. To be honest I’m not sure if being an entrepreneur is the best for having a balanced work life *laughs* but the difference is it you’re working for yourself, building your own dream, so you feel happier working more. But I also need to acknowledge when I’m doing too much, even when it’s for myself.

Kintu Studio: Yes, that’s true, no one to tell you when to stop.

Nathan: Exactly. Sometimes I do need some time off and away from work, as anyone else. I used to plan a lot for my career, very ahead of me. At the beginning of uni I knew what I was gonna work with and which company I wanted to end up working for. Now with Kokuga there’s planning to a certain extent but there’s only so much planning I can do because sometimes it’s nice and necessary to go with the flow.

Kintu Studio: Yes, because you can also understand what direction your brand is pushing more towards.

Kokuga pop up

Nathan: Yes, that’s true. The pop-up I had for the past 3 months it’s a clear example of that. It’s something I wanted to try for a while and suddenly I had the opportunity to have this amazing space. Sometimes we push too much for something to happen because we think it’s the best for us at that moment. But the truth is maybe the future has something even better around the corner? We’ll only know if we learn to let it go for a bit. 

Kintu Studio: Amazing, thank you, Nathan!