LB: Maha, first may I say thank you for doing an interview with us! For those that don’t know, you and your father have co-founded a Luxury Treehouse Eco-Resort in Nago, Okinawa Japan – called Treeful. I’ve been thrilled to see your progress and I can’t wait for you to open in 2019. Let’s start with the context and setting, what inspired you to open a Treehouse resort? And why Okinawa, how does the lifestyle of the island influence or connect with the vision behind Treeful?
MK: My father and I are from Tokyo, Japan, one of the largest cities in the world. However we always went to the mountains and the ocean to play and appreciate the nature, so we consider that the nature raised us. We therefore wanted to create the world where human and nature can coexist sustainably. We visited the treehouse resort in Costa Rica, Finca Bellavista, in 2013, and that triggered us to make a treehouse eco-resort in Japan with our vision: sustainable luxury. We consider that being able to live in a treehouse surrounded by nature only, is the ultimate luxury. We thought Okinawa would be perfect because of its untouched nature, from the ocean to its unique forest.
LB: I think one of the inherent problems with Eco-Tourism is the commercial effects on the landscape. For example, the word gets around that Bali is an incredibly beautiful and lush place to visit, thus Bali becomes a hot destination with more and more outside money coming through that has inevitably changed the economy, ecology and culture of the place. Have you thought about this for Okinawa, and is Treeful going to spearhead any projects that preserve the spirit of Okinawa?
MK: We want to make the world greener than when we started, is our goal, when we talk about eco-tourism. I believe the education of the staff and guests is the key to preserve the authentic nature and culture of Okinawa. For our resort guests, we plan to have an educational session for them to understand the ecosystem of Okinawa from many angles. With all our projects in the area, including from economical standpoint, we cope and are in accordance with the locals, to improve the area sustainably.
LB: I must say, from the moment I stumbled on your instagram, I’ve been floored with the Treehouse designs your team has come up with – they are diverse and creative, and elements turn to nature for their inspiration. I noticed that you’re building floating catwalk inspired by vertebrae – an example of “biomimicry,” which means to look at nature’s patterns and forms as solutions to our engineering and design problems. Japan, at large, is known for doing this extraordinary pioneers of this approach. Can you talk a little bit more about how this approach fits into Treeful’s brand philosophy?
MK: Nature is full of creations that is more than what human can possibly make. Our designer/builder wanted Treeful to represent the natural creations, and vertebrate animal body structure was one of them. His motto is to only make constructions with truly new and unique designs, and this 12-square Floating DNA Cat Walk was invented. 12-squared shape is also for absorbing the wind well when there are typhoons in Okinawa, expecting the wind to shake the Cat Walk with his calculation, rather than the wind breaking it.
LB: One of your treehouses, the “Egg Treehouse,” is admittedly so funny and amazing! High up in the tree, this huge nested egg reminds me of something Salvador Dali would conjure up. Where did this idea come from and how was this treehouse even constructed?
MK: We first were not aware that we can legally build treehouses anywhere we want. However, we knew that we can “dock the boat” anywhere we wanted. My father being a yacht sailor, he thought of building a boat and place it on a tree to make a treehouse. He knew a boat builder and asked him to make the egg-shaped boat. A beautifully efficient-shaped egg, which you never know what can come out from it, is the same concept as a treehouse which has unlimited opportunities.
LB: Your educational background is in Ecosystem Science and Policy, what does Treeful’s sustainability mission look like for the resort’s energy, water, and waste systems?
MK: Energy, we do not use fossil fuels and instead use our own solar panels that produce more energy than what we use at the resort. Water, we plan to have rainwater harvesting, which is the accumulation and storage of rainwater to use on the resort rather than let it drain. On top of that, we use “Laundry Maguchan” magnesium particles instead of detergent for our laundry, which turn the water into alkaline water, so we can drain the water outside, it becomes a fertilizer, and also repels insects. Waste system, we plan to use the waste to compost for the garden where we can grow vegetables.
LB: When people stay in your treehouses, they will enjoy the lushness of the streams, trees, mountains, and coast. But what extra workshops, activities, amenities, will guests expect to experience on your eco-retreat?
MK: We plan to have activities from, treehouse making experience, trekking, bonfire making, team building, planting trees, feeding Okinawan pigs, fruits picking, yoga and mediation, shrimp/fish fishing, barbecue, 8-wheel riding adventure, traditional salt-making class, Okinawan cooking class… and more. It is important to mention that the guests will have an access to both the treehouse and the aerohouse which gives you the total clamping experience with a comfortable shower+bathtub, toilet, wine cellar and even a sustainable fireplace inside
LB: How remote is the resort? Are all the treehouses located in the same area? How close are the mountains to the coast?
MK: From Naha international airport in Okinawa, it is around 1.5hours drive to our treehouse village. Moreover, we have an our island with a private beach, cape with the view of the coast, waterfall where we built the watermill, and they are all in different places in Okinawa so the guests can choose where to enjoy. Okinawa is a thin island that the mountains and coasts are close within around 30mins.
LB: Before you began Treeful, you wanted to work in Orangutan sanctuaries, correct? Are there any plant or animal species on Okinawa that are endangered or in need of more organized attention? If so, how will Treeful tackle these issues?
MK: Yes, one of the endangered animals in Okinawa is Japanese black-breasted leaf turtle. We bought 82 acre-wide cape to save the land where turtles live and foresaw a future that people might develop the land and destroy their lives.
LB: And what should guests bring to make the experience more comfortable or complete?
MK: Knee height (longer the better) outdoor boots if you want to go on a longer trek the river in front of the treehouse, raincoat in case it rains, and adventurous and positive spirits!
LB: Do you have any final words for our readers?
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