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Country Gentleman: A surprise meeting with the Crown Prince

A kingfisher is seen in the Afan woodland. (Photo courtesy of the C. W. Nicol Afan Woodland Trust)

I first came to Japan in the 37th Year of the Showa era, two years before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

I made my home here in Nagano Prefecture in 1980, the 55th Year of the Showa era and was at home on Jan. 8. 1989 when news came of the emperor's death and the new era of Heisei began. In 1995, Heisei 7, I gained Japanese citizenship, for which I am humble, grateful and proud.

Now the Reiwa era has begun. The little prince, who was just two years old when I first arrived in Japan, is now emperor. This may be old fashioned, but I pledge loyalty to His Majesty and all that he will endeavor to achieve during his reign.

At the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto in March 2003 the Crown Prince gave an impressive opening speech. Later, I was called to a small reception room where I met him and Crown Princess Masako. Previous to that I had made a television documentary on the Thames River, traveling from the headwaters, down through London to the sea in a narrow boat. The Crown Prince had interest and expertise on water navigation and traffic on the Thames, so we were able to have a short chat about the improvement of water quality on the Thames, its many tributaries and the canals that had been dredged, cleaned and opened to eco-tourism. Later, I got a copy of his book in English 'The Thames and I -- A Memoir of Two Years at Oxford.'

In March of 2006 I went to Vancouver, British Columbia, in order to record a song I had written called 'The Salmon Song'. On my very first morning in Vancouver, I was sitting at a table having beer and sushi in Granville Island Market together with my oldest daughter and her fisheries biologist husband. There was a bit of a commotion going on down at the other end of the market I could see a happy flock of little paper Japanese "Hi no Maru" flags waving, mostly by Asian ladies. Television cameras got into position ready for the entourage to walk past, flanked by burly security police.

I stood up to get a better look and realized immediately that it was none other than the Crown Prince. One of the security police spotted me stand and stepped forward to push me back, telling me in no uncertain terms not to try to approach the prince. But then the Crown Prince saw me.

"Mr. Nicol!" he exclaimed, in Japanese, "What are you doing here?"

With a big smile he stepped forward with his hand extended to shake mine, then allowed me to introduce my daughter and son-in-law. The entourage stopped, so there was a minor panic with the reporters, cameramen and security people juggling for position. Who on earth was this ruddy-faced bearded fellow, and why did the Crown Prince of Japan know him? In our brief conversation the Crown Prince said that he was going to visit a well-known toyshop. Good Dad!

A close Japanese friend recently told me that our new emperor's symbol tree is the Mizume zakura, also known as Azusa. In English it is called "cherry birch" (Betula grossa is its scientific name). This lovely fragrant tree, native to mixed woodlands in Japan, is used for many purposes, one of which being to make the "Azusa yumi," or sacred bow. If this information is correct, then we shall plant and grow more of them in our Afan woodland. That's the least we can do to celebrate the new era.

("Country Gentleman" is a regular column by author and conservationist C.W. Nicol)

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