Originally from the United Kingdom, C.W. Nicol is a prominent writer and environmentalist in Japan. After being involved in environmental conservation activities around the world, he settled in Shinanomachi in 1980. Currently, he is engaged in forest regeneration at the Afan Woodlands in Kurohime Kogen. We asked him to share his thoughts on the appeal of Shinanomachi and its natural environment that he knows so well.

What Drew Me to Shinanomachi
and Kept Me Here

A long time ago I conducted research and exploration in the Arctic and in Ethiopia and many other regions. I saw many parts of the world but found myself particularly drawn to the natural beauty of Japan and decided I wanted to live here. At the time I would have been happy to live in any rural part of the country. After a while a friend invited me to Shinanomachi. I spent a year living in an old house with a thatched roof and found the people very friendly and the town very comfortable. That’s when I began thinking it would be a good place to settle.

The town has much to recommend it. The air is good. The water is clean. The food—mountain greens, mushrooms, vegetables, freshwater fish—is delicious. With Tokyo not far away, the location is ideal. This is where I’ve been able to pursue my dreams. I couldn’t have done so in the city. Everyone who visits from overseas remarks on how wonderful the nature and people are here in Shinanomachi.

The Healing Effect of Shinanomachi’s Forests

Abundant forests in which flora and fauna coexist have been scientifically proven to have a healing effect. Such abundant forests can be found here in Shinanomachi. In cooperation with medical institutions, we tested visitors’ blood and blood pressure before and after walking in the forest, and everyone exhibited lower blood pressure and higher immunity in the “after” testing. We had children draw pictures after walking in the woods and you could see the effect it had on their drawings and gestures. I think woodlands are the future of Shinanomachi—quiet, free of unpleasant smells, and easy on the eyes. The sounds of the forest—the babbling of little streams, the twittering of songbirds, the calls of frogs and insects—speak gently to people. Half of our DNA is from the sea, but the other half is from the forest. Woodlands are where our hearts belong. We have two horses now living at the Afan Woodlands Trust that are engaged in horse logging, a traditional, eco-friendly way of hauling timber. In the future we hope to also use horses for equine therapy and for mountain safaris.

Favorite Scenery and Spots in Shinanomachi

My favorite place, of course, is the Afan Woodland Trust, but the view of Mt. Kurohime from the Kurohime Fairy Tale Museum is also lovely—very much like the scenery in Europe. I think it would be nice if sheep were kept there to eat the weeds, and even better if there were horses, too. I also very much like the view looking down on Lake Nojiri and its surroundings from the upper part of Mt. Madarao.

The view from the Kurohime Fairy Tale Museum

A Note to Readers

Japanese people, and particularly those in Shinanomachi and other rural areas, are kind and always willing to help someone in trouble. If you need anything, don’t be afraid to ask! Shinanomachi has good forests, many places where you can camp, and inns that are accustomed to guests from overseas. If you’ve come all the way to Japan, you should definitely jump in and experience the wonderful natural environment of Shinanomachi.

C.W. Nicol
Writer. Born in South Wales, UK, in 1940. After serving in various environmental and conservation positions around the world, including technician at the Fisheries Research Board of Canada Arctic Biological Station, Environmental Emergency Officer at the Environmental Protection Service of Canada, and game warden at the Semien Mountains National Park in Ethiopia, Nicol has lived in Shinanomachi since 1980. Beginning in 1986 he started acquiring neglected woodlands and working to regenerate them through his Afan Woodland Trust. In 2005, in recognition of these activities, he was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2016 he received the 26th Midori no Bunka (Green Culture) Prize from the National Land Afforestation Promotion Organization. Also in 2016, the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited the Afan Woodland Trust.