Illustration by Kozyndan
Photography supplied by Takashi Kobayashi
[T]here’s a place that exists, where the light splits into gold through the branches of trees. Wild scents drift through the air, rivers for the nose. Birds and little critters sing to the sun and the moon, through the day and night, in celebration of life and freedom. Even when silence sinks in to this forest, secrets can be heard. The trees speak, in the wind and in the stillness. They speak to those with the imagination to listen. To animals and humans alike. To children and those who have grown old, hardened like rocks. This forest is a place that doesn’t distinguish age by wrinkles on skin, or years spent. This forest is a minstrel for those who keep youth inside them. Who chose to cast away the rigidity of concrete in the mind, and embrace the wonder of imagination and creativity in the heart. Wild tales take place in the forest, because it is here where our dreams live, where they have space to roam, leaving the caverns of the caves we keep them in. In this forest there is a man who toils joyfully with the trees. He spins a pinecone in is hands and holds it up to the light. He’s a child just as much as a man, the pinecone is an oracle just as much as it is an artifact.
Sometime ago there was once a boy who dwelled in the concrete. Most of what he saw was built by those with little imagination, constructed by materials with little life, and in return gave little life. The boy’s name was Takashi, and he lived in a place called Tokyo. Takashi would wonder the streets, perceiving all the little intricacies of this hardened world. He never felt quite right in it and began to refer to it as a place of systems, a systematic society. It seemed to him that this system had a way of driving out the originality of people. The lights and screens projected images of states and things one should be and achieve, drawn on billboards and buildings, where art should be. Instead of expressions of life around the city, there was much attempted influence towards paths of illusion that led to empty destinations. The system encouraged the ordinary, fearing anything that might topple its comfortably placed cages. People looked like zombies at times, with similar appearances, just like the buildings around all resembled one another. Tall, lifeless stacks of dull bricks and plaster masqueraded as living quarters. But they were not living at all.
Takashi was a dreamer. It was his imagination that was untamed by these systems. His intuition spoke against such a rigid way of living; it spoke of a freedom outside these walls, an intrinsic wildness that cannot be confined to such quarters. In this world he was a slacker, so he felt. The people who dwelled in the concrete had told him so, and maybe they had some truth.
He went along with the motions in Tokyo, searching for something that he could liberate his being from the drab walls, the systematic suffocation. He searched high and low, all over. He searched in music, in writing and school and photography, but he felt his dreams would always take him elsewhere. There was a problem, he saw, with all these endeavours. Everyone had done all of these things before. There was not much room to be unique. His intuition and visions yearned for something outside of this system, outside the kingdom of men.
Years passed and Takashi passed the days, not in sadness, but he always searched, he always dreamed. One day gazing out of the window, he noticed a tree in his front yard. Now I should say he saw the tree, because he had noticed it many times before, coming and leaving from his house in the city. But it was on this day that he saw the tree. It stood in such rebellion against all the concrete around. The lines it drew could never be constructed; they had to be created organically. No tools, no hammers, no levels were to thank for this creation. It stood in a way that seemed to laugh at these devices. It stood in pure form, it was the essence of a world and a way, much more beautiful than the city. It was a unique being all unto itself. It provided itself all of what it needed, through a radical self-reliance from any man-made system. The system it adapted to was that of nature; completing a full circle through sun, soil and water, taking and producing equally. Such a magnificent being, dancing in the wind, displaying shadows on the sun, shade in the grass. Takashi took refuge in the shade, inspired by the rebellion in the tree.
His dreaming began to manifest itself on the exterior world. He would show this tree to others, how he had seen it. He would display the revolt to the systems that plagued the city through this miracle of nature. It was a revolt based in freedom, not despair or anger. It was a revolt based on inspiration, guided by the branches, the leaves and the bark. This was something he felt was new, there was no how-to manual, or school curriculum, no line of people who had done similar things, replicating each other countless times. He could create things only his imagination could fathom. He went for it, not knowing exactly where it was going; it was just going in a place that felt free. Working in that tree he felt like a monkey, with the birds and squirrels. A part of his psyche remembered the animal inside all of us. The animal that scoffs at the systems we have put in place, to separate ourselves from the circle, a self-imposed ostracization of the natural flow of things. Up high in the nest he was creating, he began to escape from what he saw around. It was simply fun and he was laughing, like a child.
When the house was complete, he knew his search had come to a halt. His escape was the house he had created, a living house. It was an escape from the concrete; it was a dwelling with breath. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t perfect, there were things here and there that could be improved upon. The satisfaction came from listening to his intuition, from being his own teacher. The joy came from liberating the system that ignored this tree. Now other people could see the tree in the city, as he had.
The years rose and sank with the sun, and Takashi continued on his journey with the trees. His designs grew in mastery with each nest, learning from previous mistakes and continuing to be open to the creative constructs each tree already had. When a building is made, the first step is to clear the land it is going to be placed upon. There is no regard for what already exists there, in terms of both design and life. Takashi could see that the trees he worked with were presenting an opportunity to create symbiotically, with man and nature. Through working with the tree harmoniously and accentuating what was already there in perfection, Takashi explored avenues of imagination in abundance.
It was a peculiar thing, though ageing the mirror, in the physical form, he always kept his inner child close. He consulted the child, it seemed that the playful youth lived in his intuition and imagination, and it was from within this effervescent spring that his symbiotic creations arose. A communication began with the trees and himself, deep inside his being. At first it was a silent murmur, he wasn’t even sure that it was anything less than his own static. But through the exploration of more trees and more creations the murmur began to speak louder. It was more of a feeling than a direct communication, but the articulation was as pure as poetry. It was a sense that he felt. A combination of all of the other senses together, and yet something outside of those as well. It was a wisdom that nature was providing, through the subtle brilliance of its intelligent design. The wisdom was speaking of problems the inhabitants of this planet face. It was urging a look inward and at the creation surrounding man. The answers could be found inside the forest, inside the circle. Takashi noticed many dead trees on the ground, but these dead trees created an invigoration of life for new trees and animals. There was no final end; the circle is ever complete, feeding off itself like the snake eating its own tail. He saw how fragile the systematic society really was, and how far from the truth it was headed. Instead of mimicking the processes found in the natural world, it seemed to falsify a circle of life and take on an equation unbalanced. He knew that the things he was learning through his work could be translated to others, since we all share similar senses and feelings, his designs provoked playful hints to the joys and knowledge of the natural world.
Takashi brought people to the forest from the concrete with the lure of his creations, and there he was hoping that people would see things that he saw, in their own way, in the way the trees wanted them to see, in the way they sang. He hoped people could hear their own voice inside, and feel with their own senses, a path unique to them, and overcome the pull of systems set in place that lead away from the forest and nature. There were many things he wanted to share with people who came to see and be a part of his houses in the trees. He was realising that all of these things his intuition and senses were telling him could not stand the pace of the world at the time it was unfolding. He saw it clear in a vision. He saw the intelligence he had gained in his work as water, and in sharing that intelligence he was creating places for the water to fall down, through other people. In turn they could use their knowledge and experience to create more water, adding to the spring he had given. Then the water, the intelligence, could continue flowing, replenishing with each soul and as time flows on. The generations, he saw, after him can and must run with this intelligence that the forest and nature provides. The time has never been so critical.
There is a forest that grows in the mind that can break through the concrete. Not with aggression or force, but with unbounded imagination that laughs with the heartiness of a child at such rigid systems. Takashi’s work is an ode of defiance to the systems that threaten to harden our world. The lines he draws are taken from the landscapes, from the clouds, and from the sea. The inspiration for his designs come from playful imagination, whilst sitting in the sea on a surfboard bobbing up and down like a barometre for the planet, or daydreaming in the forest. The limitations that exist here are many, the challenges are plentiful, but that is what creation is; a salvation through limitation, liberation through adversity and challenge, and a yielding for the wisdom of the forest. The place outside the forest, the concrete, systematic world, need only to see the tree growing in its boundaries, under the sun, to remember what has been forgotten.
The writing above was created as a result of a conversation had with Takashi and myself. It was a pleasure and honour to chat with such an inspiring, humble and creative cat, as he shared his insights and experiences, which have been re-worked into the writings above. You can find more about Takashi Kobayashi and his organisation JTN, which aims to create awareness of tree houses through simple acts of exposure and involvement with these lovely creations.