The Miso Barrel Tree House rises 4 meters above the forest floor.
John-san and many others have really put themselves out on limb to make this dream a reality. The TREEHOUSE dream began with a desire to show Japanese adults and children the importance of dreams.
The Tree-house would also be an example of an environmentally friendly home built with recycled materials wherever possible. It was to be a dream shared by both adults and children working together.
Why Huge 140 year old Miso and Soya Sauce Barrels? Why use old telephone poles? Clearly, the tree-house was to be distinctively Japanese and was to be built from materials that would not otherwise be recycled.
Miso Barrels were perfect for the tree-house! Originally used in the production of Miso & Soya Sauce, they have since been replaced in the production process with stainless steel tanks. The craftsmen who make the barrels have diminished in number to less than ten in all of Japan.
Although the barrels were made of prime lumber, using only the core of ancient tree trunks, they are normally not recycled because of their overpowering smell!
When westerners might ask "Who cut the cheese?" Japanese could ask "Who opened the Miso barrel?" The barrels are infamous for their smell. Consequently, as they became obsolete and were replaced by stainless tanks they were chipped-up and burnt.
If John was going to go out on a limb it might as well be way out! Putting these huge barrels up in trees was so unusual and exciting that John and his wife Hiroko decide that a barrel Treehouse was the way to go! There are very few trees large enough to support the two ton weight of each barrel so it was decided that old wooden telephone poles would be used to help support the decks and provide the base for the Tree-house.
When John began investigating the details of building the Tree-house, he discovered that not only did they face a tangled mess of building codes and construction laws, but the cost of land was astronomical.
To realize his dream would require money, so John approached the bank for a loan. When he explained his plans, the bank manager just looked at him and laughed. "Where is the hidden camera?" the manager asked. After John convinced him he was serious the manager said, We canŐt give you a loan for something made out of Smelly Garbage. If you reneged on your mortgage who would buy it? Tarzan or a Barrel of Monkeys? Neither one of them have money!
But the dream was not extinct. Zensho Miyata, chief priest at the Jokoji Buddhist Temple learned of John's dream to build a livable tree-house for his family and as a place for bullied and abused children and parents to come and share in a dream. The priest offered the use of part of the temple grounds for the project. He told John-San that temples were once a refuge for troubled families and a place for children to find encouragement and help with life. Neither families nor children come very often to the temple now, he explained. John-San could have the land!
With great excitement, construction of the tree-house began. A national news station picked up the story and soon the tree-house was big news. A livable tree-house built on temple lands by a foreigner was unique indeed.
The story also attracted the attention of officers from the parks branch. Miyata had not mentioned that the temple grounds were located in a national park. After 6 months of construction and the combined efforts of sixty volunteers and tens of thousands of John-San's own money, representatives of the parks branch instructed them to shut the project down.
It is a miracle that the tree-house survived all the red tape and closed doors that John-San encountered. John-San and the volunteers learned many lessons about negotiating and working with the Japanese government and city officers. The whole purpose of the Tree-house was to show the power and importance of dreams. John-San believed that the city officials and ministry officers also needed dreams. What was needed was to have everyone share in this dream. After considerable negotiation an agreement was reached. Since the law prohibited anyone living in a national park and the Tree-house did not conform to building codes, the Tree-house was designated as part of the temple and John and his family became the caretakers. John would still be required to finance the project himself but he would have no legal claim on the building.
The Tree-house was completed by John-San and over 100 volunteers from ages 2-87 years old. The volunteer crew included carpenters, architects, workers from various companies, doctors, accountants, teachers, housewives, physically and mentally challenged children and adults, boy scouts and many others.
After official approval for the Tree-house had been obtained, a number of corporations donated materials and a workforce to making the Tree-house a success. John cannot praise his wife Hiroko enough for all of her ideas and hard work. "If it were just me doing the Tree-house it would have really been something Tarzan would have lived in. Hiroko made the Tree-house a home!"
Tremendous effort and planning made the Tree-house both livable and functional with a touch of class. The kitchen in a barrel is the result of Hiroko's design and the Toho Living company. The counters were made by Dupont. The heated flooring was accomplished by Toho Gas. The large skylights came from YKK (yes the Zipper Company!) All the doors were hand made by Toyama Cabinetmakers.
Construction was overseen by Iwasa Construction and Suzumura Construction. Architectural help and advice was provided by Miyuki Shoji. Kato Accounting helped us throughout construction to make sure that we could make ends meet.
The bathroom tub was used and so were most of the furnishings. The decks incorporated recycled Canadian and American lumber, Japanese lumber and Soya Barrels.
The Tree-house is anything but square. The barrels are round and the main house is pentagon-shaped. John-San says that he let the forest dictate the shape of the home. "When you decide you are not going to cut down any of the trees, the trees shape your house. We have one growing up inside and each corner of the house has a tree supporting it."
The trees were not equally spaced so each wall of the pentagon is a little different in length. It would be impossible to recreate the Tree-house exactly. Of course, John is willing to help anyone try. "We would love to share any barrels with anyone serious about making a Barrel Home. Eighty such barrels still need a home!"
Construction of the Tree-house is almost completed but the power of the dream and the Tree-house project has just begun to take off. When he is not working, John spends his time with groups of children at the Tree-house. He is a tree-climbing enthusiast and an outdoors specialist. He has many hobbies but his number one interest is his own family.
And if you sneak up on the Tree-house in the early mornings you may even hear the enchanting sound of John-San playing the Great Highland bagpipes up in the trees.
When asked about the success of the Tree-house, John says, "A dream has to be shared and in sharing, it has to become everyone's dream. From the carpenters to the boy scouts, I never told them that this had to be done my way. I always asked them what they thought could help make the Tree-house a dream house."
"I hope you enjoyed your visit"