Treeful owner Satoru Kikugawa’s dream as a child was to “build a treehouse”. In his early childhood, he was inspired by a book called “I want a big tree” in which the main character finds a big tree and builds a treehouse. He not only wanted to create a treehouse for himself, but for the guests to realize the beauty of nature, as well as the importance of humans to coexist with nature. Ever since he started the construction of the treehouse in 2014, his goal then became to create a treehouse resort.
What’s the most important step in making a treehouse? To find a tree that is big enough to build one.
Kikugawa started looking for trees in Northern Okinawa, where untouched virgin forests still remained. When he asked real estate agents in Okinawa, they only replied that there were trees but they did not know if it had the potential of a treehouse. He then met an Okinawan real estate agent who was willing to search for a big tree with him, and they scouted around the northern part of the island. When they found the large akagi tree that would now is the host tree for the Spiral Treehouse, Kikugawa hugged the tree and thought, “This is it!”.
Kikugawa took his daughter Maha to explore nature almost every week since she was a child, in which she naturally developed her desire to give back to nature in some way. She even traveled to Costa Rica’s Treehouse Resort with her father and helped in the beginning stages of building the treehouse in Okinawa.
Although Kikugawa enjoyed building things as a child, he had never built a treehouse where guests can stay overnight, so the early stages were full of failures. The first successful treehouse is what is today known as the “Party Tree Deck”, which is built in between five trees 2.5 meters above ground, with width of 4 meters, and length of 5 meters. They then put up a tent above the deck to prevent rainfalls, and that was their first treehouse.
To continue advancing his skills, he learned how to create and use different tools on YouTube to make a spiral treehouse on the beautiful akagi tree which was the tree that became the starting point of the tree house resort.
The uniqueness of the design is for the treehouse to be “a real treehouse.”
A real treehouse means that a living tree needs to support the whole weight of the tree house, without any type of column touching the ground. In addition, he wanted to build a spiral staircase around the akagi tree that matched perfectly with the structure and the height of the tree. This is where they came up with the idea of building a spiral staircase by hanging a wire from the tree to support the weight of the whole structure. The next challenge was rain leakage into the room, in which he came up with the solution through utilizing a non woven fabric system. He was particular about the design, as well as being committed to NASA’s safety standards (“One fail-op, two fail-safe”. In other words, if one failure occurs, the mission continues, and if two failures occur, the design is designed to maintain safety), and after several years of trial and error, the spiral staircase was finally completed.
At the same time, the egg house was being built in a different location. Since Kikugawa had been sailing as a hobby since his university days, his initial thought at the beginning of the Treeful project when it was not certain whether building a treehouse was legal, was “Just build a boat and put the boat in a tree. The boat could be parked anywhere.” The reason for the egg shape is that an egg can be a symbol that represents “full of dreams, not knowing what will be born.” He designed it himself by melting down a milk carton to make a smaller model, took it to a shipbuilder in Yokohama to have it constructed, and actually piloted the egg house in the waters of Okinawa and registering it as a small boat. He then took it to Genka, Nago City, where Treeful is now located, and placed it on a tree.
By that time, he had become a better treehouse builder than he had been at first, and his team of builders had increased. He wanted to remodel the first party treehouse deck he had built into a more substantial treehouse, so he came up with the idea of a “dodecagonal corridor” on the second floor of the party tree deck. Even though a corridor could have easily been built if straight planks had been laid out across, he wanted to play around with the design and a shape that was inspired by nature. He was drawn to imitating the structure of a vertebrae bone, similar to the backbone and ribs of a whale. The design was meant to symbolize the message that humans have a lot of wisdom and mechanisms to gain from animals and other living creatures. The Party Treehouse is now a place where guests can enjoy dinner by the fire, parties, and gatherings.
Our newest treehouse is the Golden Trophy Treehouse. Inspired by the Kinkakuji Temple in Kyoto, this Japanese-style treehouse allows visitors to enjoy the Japanese tradition of tea. The axis that supports the treehouse is a traditional Japanese form of “tsuzumi,” or a drum. The design of the treehouse was inspired by the tsutsumi shaped chairs Kikugawa remembered from his childhood in his family cottage in Karuizawa. The roof is made of Japanese paper, and when viewed from outside with the lights on at dusk, the treehouse glows gold, making it a must-see at night. Currently, he is constructing an indigo sauna treehouse that hovers above the river and has a slide carved out of a large tree.
To protect nature in the making of the treehouse, the team builds around trees and never cuts trees that are bigger than 5cm. The tree house itself is carbon negative, not carbon neutral. All structures, including the AeroHouse, will be built at least 1.2 meters above ground level so that it doesn’t disturb animals and plants living in and above the ground. Kikugawa also applied for a patent for wooden dowels because the metal bolts used to build the treehouse produce 2.2 times more carbon dioxide by weight when they are made in a factory. Instead of a lawn mower, they employed Donna the goat to keep the grass area maintained. They also incorporate composting toilets and eco-cutes that heat water using surplus electricity at midnight. In addition, they use ultraviolet light to sterilize hand-drilled well water instead of chlorine since chlorinated water unnecessarily kills microorganisms. Currently, they are also working on an off-grid project to generate their own electricity using old car storage batteries and solar panels. They are making various efforts to achieve a sustainable society.
Through overcoming many challenges throughout the seven years, Kikugawa’s childhood dream became true when they opened the resort in August of 2021. Kikugawa wouldn’t have been able to do this without the support of the local community and team, who shared the mutual message and goal of “coexistence with nature”. Kikugawa hopes that guests staying at Treeful are our important “partners” who learn and spread the importance of coexistence with nature.