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Japanese Surfer Builds Incredible Tree House Classroom For Tsunami Survivors

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In his new film project, "Through the Lens," retired pro surfer Rob Machado highlights ordinary surfers who are doing extraordinary things. In his second episode of the series, he travels to Sendai, Japan -- one of the hardest hit areas in the 2011 tsunami -- to interview Takashi Kobayashi who, in Machado's words, is just "oozing wisdom."

Kobayashi is Japan's renowned "tree house guru." He stumbled upon this calling after first moving to a big city in Japan, and losing himself in the urban jungle. "I got confused about who I am and what do I want to do with my life," he tells Machado. Finally, the self-named slacker resolved to reconnect himself to nature, thus reinvigorating himself and his purpose in life. The "art of tree houses,” he tells Machado, helped him find direction in life.

In the past twenty years, Kobayashi has built 120 tree houses, but he just recently finished his "most important tree house to date," which is the subject of Machado's short film. “Nature, it gives us a lot," Kobayashi, who is also a surfer, tells Machado, "including fun waves, but once they get as big as a tsunami, they can also take our lives.”

In the wake of the 2011 tsunami, Kobayashi wanted to do more for the survivors -- something special "that only I could do for them." He has three young children himself, he says in the documentary, so “when I think of the children still missing from this area it hurts me.”

And so, Kobayashi and his team of volunteers recently completed a tree house for the children of Higashi-Matsushima. The tree house classroom, which is inspired by a dragon, is an important part of the healing process according to C.W. Nicol, a writer for the Japan Times. "Many of these children are traumatized," Nicol writes. "They need natural beauty around them -- and they really, urgently need homes and schools that will help foster in them a belief in the future.

The idea of nature deficit disorder is not new, but tree house classrooms like this one take the antidote to new levels, and Machado's film highlights the importance and healing powers of connecting with nature.

As Nicol describes it, the tree house "winds up a steep wooded slope, enveloping a sycamore and a mountain cherry tree as it goes." There is a little room at the base which has a fireplace "chiseled out of the bedrock" and which can "fit about 10 big people or 15 small ones." Winding staircases lead to a deck and the head of the dragon, "which is a small enclosed room with round stained-glass windows."

It is a structure, Machado says, that symbolizes "joy and happiness."

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