Book Review: Treedom by Takashi Kobayashi

Book Cover Treedom: The Road to Freedom by Takahashi Kobayashi

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Treehouses lately have been looking less and less like kiddie constructions and more like designer structures fit for elven royalty, or for people looking for more naturally harmonious habitats. You may ask, why treehouses?

But there's a lot more to treehouses than you may think. As Japanese treehouse builder Takashi Kobayashi declares in his new autobiographical book, "Treedom: The Road to Freedom" (Amazon $25). There's a global "treehouse culture" that is taking root, born out of a yearning for a closer connection with some of the world's largest organisms. Treedom begins with Kobayashi's story growing up as an outsider to the rigid confines of Japanese society. Working a series of dead-end jobs, he finally buys a small store for a second-hand clothing business, where he builds a small cabin around the Himalayan tree out front. Says Kobayashi, "Without realizing it, I'd built my first treehouse."

Later on, while overseas, a series of synchronous events led him to pick up a book called "The Treehouse Book (Amazon $25)" by American treehouse builder Peter Nelson. Something clicked for Kobayashi, who realizes that this "was what [he] had been looking for so long." He later met Nelson, who invited him to attend the annual World Treehouse Conference in Oregon, "the backbone of treehouse life and culture."

Over ten years later, Kobayashi is now internationally recognized as a treehouse builder with commissions for large companies like Nescafe, while still traveling to places like Oregon and Kochi, which he considers homes away from home.

Montage of kobayashi treehouses
Kobayashi's treehouses in Okinawa and Hokkaido. Peter Nelson /

The book is a visually stimulating collection of photos, sketches, and essays by Kobayashi, along with collaborators producer Ayumu Takahashi and director Nawoto Yokota, who helped to create the hour-long DVD documentary accompanying the book. The DVD shows footage of Kobayashi over the years, from Japan to Oregon, and at work at two treehouse projects in Okinawa and Hokkaido (both built with found materials on-site).

Though the focus of both the book and film is more on Kobayashi himself rather than the technical aspects of his design work, there is a richness in how Kobayashi describes his motivation for doing what he does. For him, treehouses are a vital expression of a free human spirit.

"Money, brains, power. A society that values only these things really frightens me," writes Kobayashi. "There's more out there. I think treehouses can express that.