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Naturalist and TV celebrity C.W. Nicol visits Okinawa

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1999-05-29

Last Monday night, May 24, Japanese citizens packed into a conference room in downtown Naha and eagerly awaited to see one of Japan's most well known environmentalists. The crowd of young college students, nature conservationists, and peace activists all came for C.W. Nicol - a lover of nature who has made a name for himself through books, documentaries, and television commercials here in Japan. The lecture, which was titled "In Our Nature," was sponsored by Seattle Colleges East-Asia Network, which recently opened a new college here in Okinawa. Born in Wales, Nicol participated in a variety of scientific research expeditions to northern Canada before coming to Japan to study karate. His experience with the outdoors and with animals made him the perfect choice to lead Japan's environmental movement, which has also made him a celebrity along the way.

Nicol was one of the few foreigners to have gained nationwide popularity without having to become a regular on the Japanese TV variety show circuit. Instead, his face is known to most Japanese as the "gaijin" protector of Japan's forests. His books have also helped to boost his popularity with the Japanese public. He is, however, sometimes known more for the clothing apparel, ham, and whisky he has pitched for various companies in television commercials. Through his many appearances at lectures and symposiums throughout the year, Nicol has become an icon for environmental protection in a country that often lacks leadership when it comes to environmentalism. He is usually the first to blame the Japanese government for bad policy making and a national park system that is poorly maintained, but he also backs up his words with action - Nicol is well known for his efforts to preserve forest land with his own money in Nagano Prefecture, where he has lived for many years.

On Monday night he related his experiences from almost thirty years ago as the chief ranger of a national park in Ethiopia. In a place that was full of bandits and unlawfulness, Nicol's first goal was to establish law and order. In one year he personally arrested more than 200 people who were undertaking illegal activities within the park. He told his curious listeners how his body was riddled with cuts and scrapes, and how his life was put in danger many times, but together with his rangers he kept to his goal. Finally, he was forced to leave because of a war that broke out, which left 16 out of 20 of his men dead. "It was the first time I ever ran away from a fight," said Nicol. The two years he spent in Africa served as the information for his very first book, which was titled "Roof of Africa,' and was published in 1972.

Upon his return to Japan he realized the beauty of the place that he now calls home, and he praised Japan for its law abiding society. That fondness and respect for Japan spurred Nicol to become a Japanese citizen, which he did in 1995 after a lengthy process. Although his adventures since Ethiopia may not equal the stories of gun-touting bandits, he faces his adversaries (mostly destroyers of the environment) with the same tenacity and dedication he had in his younger days. Today, Nicol still remains active in environmental issues, writing, and making television documentaries. He is currently working on another novel, and he spends much of his time traveling the country. When he is not on the road, he usually can be found in his home in Nagano, or out wandering around in his personal backyard of beautiful forest.

Nicol is also very fond of Okinawa, and can be seen on a local TV commercial here on the island. He is scheduled to visit Okinawa once or twice a year to give lectures connected with the Okinawa branch of the Seattle College East-Asia Network.

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