What do you get when you combine the Wales-born, dyed-in-the-wool outdoorsman C.W. Nicol with the five squeaky-clean members of Japanese boy band Arashi? Good television, that’s what.
Considering the kinds of topics Nicol covers in his monthly “Old Nic’s Notebook” column for The Japan Times — chasing poachers in Ethiopia, skinning deer, culling wild boar — you’d think that the closest he’d ever get to pop-star eye-candy would be to have them for lunch. Not so. Since summer, Nicol has appeared regularly on “Arashi ni Shiyagare,” the wildly popular variety show that the Johnny & Associates-managed singers host every Saturday evening. So well does he get on with the boys, in fact, that he’ll feature in their New Year’s Day special — a program that was shot at a Nippon Television Network studio earlier this month, with this reporter in attendance.
Nicol’s role in the show is as one of several “fathers” who offer counsel to the band members in response to personal issues that are troubling them — they’re having trouble sleeping, they tend not to like expensive cuisine and so on. As producer Hirofumi Tanaka explained, “the idea is to broaden the boys’ horizons by giving them access to people who can offer them advice for life.”
Sitting alongside his fellow “fathers,” who included crime-fiction writer Kenzo Kitakata, 70-year-old Nicol studied his notes as the staff busily prepared for Arashi’s arrival. “I had been told what the topics were in advance, and was reviewing what advice I had said I would offer,” Nicol later explained.
Soon Arashi marched in, took their seats opposite their “fathers,” and the program began. “Hey, it’s the hachimitsu ojisan (honey man),” called out band-member Kazunari Ninomiya. Nicol grinned, recognizing the reference to a previous episode in which he had taken Ninomiya on a honey-collecting expedition.
It being “New Year’s Day” and all, Nicol had been corralled into carving a turkey to get the segment started. “Don’t you eat turkey at Christmas?” asked Ninomiya. “Um, yes, but you know, Christmas lasts for 12 days,” Nicol responded — deftly covering for an apparent oversight on the part of the program staff.
Soon they were into the advice-giving sessions. Nicol tended to illustrate his advice with stories from his diverse life experiences, such as his childhood in Wales and his work in the Arctic, and the boys listened attentively.
Producer Tanaka approved, too. “Nicol not only has tremendous experience with nature, with working to protect woodlands and living in harmony with nature, but, as someone with a non-Japanese background, he also has had entirely different experiences to the other, Japanese ‘fathers’ on the show,” he said after the shoot.
Until about 10 years ago, Nicol — who is now a Japanese citizen — was a regular on Japanese television — though mainly as a presenter for documentaries. What prompted him to accept this offer to appear on a prime-time variety show?
“Well, I am known to the generation of Japanese in their 40s, because of my previous work, but not to the generation in their 20s,” he told The Japan Times. “Not that I want to seek fame in this 70-year-old body, but this is a wonderful opportunity to inform that generation about my books and my work restoring woodlands and giving children the chance to experience forests. And the Arashi guys are a lot of fun to talk to.”
Nicol, who has successfully restored a 30-hectare stand of forest in Nagano Prefecture — the Afan Woodland Trust — has recently been appointed to the Japan committee for next year’s United Nations International Year of Forests. “Raising awareness for that work is also important,” he added.
And the effort appears to be paying off — though in more ways than Nicol initially anticipated. On arriving at the studio for the recent shoot, he explained, there were “a hundred girls lined up, and they were screaming at me!”
“Judging from that reaction, I think they probably want to keep having me on the show,” he laughed — a guess that it turns out is spot on. Producer Tanaka said that for the program’s “father” segment, which will continue to air at semi-regular intervals, “Nicol is absolutely essential.”
C.W. Nicol appears on “Arashi ni Shiyagare” on Jan. 1 on NTV and affiliated channels. It starts at 9 p.m. His “Old Nic’s Notebook” appears in The Japan Times on the first Sunday of every month.