Location: Hida

Week: 9

Days Travelled: 68

Throughout central Japan, there are many signs of winter relinquishing its cold grip to spring.

Snow melting to reveal dormant grasses, flowers emerging from bulbs under the earth and of course the famed sakura (cherry blossom) beginning to flower.

But there is another in the small, picturesque Edo-period town of Hida I did not expect.

Hida is famed for its beef – a type of Wagyu like Kobe – and the canals running through the town normally filled with koi carp.

However, in winter the canals freeze to a point that is dangerous, so the 1000 fish are laboriously moved to another province until it’s safe for them to return. No mean feat when some of them can way upwards of 15-20kg!

We were fortunate enough to be around Hida for their return; a relaxed event where the koi are delivered back to the town in the back of trucks and carefully placed back in the water. It brings the town together, particularly the kids, and is a clear marker that the cold season is behind them.

Naturally, I reflect on my life back in Melbourne and Australia where we don’t have such obvious signs. Yes, we do see bulbs sprout from the earth in spring, but they are mostly cultivated plants from other countries.

Perhaps it’s because the four seasons of the Northern Hemisphere that we unquestionably adopted don’t suit our weather; that the seven seasons of the Wurundjeri or Bunnerong People would suit the cycles more appropriately.

Our native trees are more likely to drop leaves in summer than autumn; some flower only in winter to provide vital nectar for possums and birds in the colder months. Summer barely seems to start in December, spring seemingly being hay fever from all the European trees that adorn our streets.

It’s not necessarily a criticism, more an observation of how I still struggle to see an Australian identity that exits in contrast to older cultures. Japan has such a clear cultural identity formulated over thousands of years of ritual, civil and international war and heritage.

Australia rejects the rights and wisdom of the oldest living culture on the planet and adopts British/American ideals that hardly seem to suit our climate and way of life. It means we sing carols about snow in summer, have nothing to look forward to in the colder months (like the Northern Hemisphere has Christmas and New Year) and lose the opportunity to celebrate nature’s cycles.

The result of this cultural purgatory is being stuck in limbo between who our nation has been told to be through colonisation and our British roots and who we could be, through reflection, admission and courage.

It is clear in working with people how we cannot move forward and access our potential until we reconcile our past with ourselves. Australia has a whole continues, as last year’s referendum showed, to reject its past and so cannot move forward. First Nations, and more recently refugee communities, continue to suffer the most from this lack of identity, but our nation is also struggling.

Only through this national acceptance and reconciliation can we move forward to what we can be.

Maybe then we could find our own version of returning the koi for spring.