Itsuki-Mura Bungy Report
by Fukuoka Now reporter Kamil Spychalski
Bungy jumping is one of those things that many people feel they should do once in their life. While I felt the same way, I just presumed it would happen one day and wasn’t in the least bit proactive about actually crossing it off the list. It certainly wasn’t in the plans for my time in Japan. Luckily for me, that “one day” came much sooner than expected when Bungy Japan, based in Gunma Prefecture, brought this exhilarating activity to Kyushu and I was offered to jump for a Fukuoka Now report.
The site is Itsuki-mura, a small village tucked into the mountains of southern Kumamoto. Last year, bungy was extremely popular as part of Adventure Week in Itsuki-mura, and this year it is back for two whole weeks, during which close to 500 people will test their courage on the highest bridge bungy jump in Japan. When the opportunity arose, I eagerly agreed without really considering the reality of what was required – leaping head-first off an unused road bridge down to the river 77m below.
As the reality slowly sunk in during the week leading up to the jump, my mind wavered between the “Oh my god, what am I doing?!” moments in which I envisioned my body bouncing like a yo-yo before rag-dolling into the water below, and images of perfectly executed swan-dives where I majestically soared through the air towards the river glistening golden in the sunlight. I was still riding this emotional rollercoaster when I left Fukuoka the day before my jump, but for the most part I was really excited.
Admittedly, the trip from Fukuoka is not particularly straightforward, but is a wonderful experience in itself. While the shinkansen ride down to Shin-yatsushiro covers most of the journey in just an hour, changing over to the trans-Kyushu limited express train that runs from Beppu to Hitoyoshi is a relaxing change of pace that belies the terrifying fate awaiting you at the destination. As the train slowly threaded its way through little wooden villages, across bridges and through red brick tunnels in the mountain sides along the Kuma River, I couldn’t take my eyes off the peaceful, emerald-green water that I would soon be plunging into. Should something go wrong, at least my last view would be a very good one.
The closer I got to Itsuki-mura, the better I understood the reasoning behind the jump’s remote mountain location. After a bus ride that featured countless bridges perched between towering green mountains, I arrived at a place that seemed to be built for bungy – a scenic village sitting high on a mountainside, connected to the rest of the world by several incongruously tall concrete bridges that soared far above the river below. This ideal location was chosen by the Bungy Japan crew after meticulously surveying over 100 potential sites throughout the country, including bridge construction manuals obtained with the cooperation of local authorities. Itsuki-mura ticked all the boxes, but as I learned soon after arriving, this was not exactly what the village had planned.
Some ten years ago, the village was moved from the river valley to higher ground to make way for a dam development, which was eventually aborted before completion. As a result, Itsuki-mura is now surrounded by several newly constructed concrete bridges that were built in anticipation of a far higher river level that ultimately remained unchanged. Itsuki-mura is now looking to make the most of these changes, and has called in the guys from Bungy Japan to help transform the area.
Of course, for most people who visit the town to bungy jump, much of this remains in the periphery as they find themselves preoccupied with the terrifying prospect at hand. Finally seeing the bridge you are going to jump from does very little to calm the nerves. Luckily for me, speaking with Beau and Charlie, the guys behind Bungy Japan, left me feeling assured that I was in good hands. For over 15 years since the beginnings of bungy in Japan, these two have been involved in sending tens of thousands of screaming visitors off bridges around the country without a single incident. Following standards agreed upon by NZ/Aus governments, they are working to establish bungy jumping guidelines in Japan, starting with their permanent Minakami site in Gunma Prefecture. While there is no national standard as yet, other prefectures looking to introduce the bungy experience have drawn on the work done by Bungy Japan in Gunma, and as the only professional bungy operators currently in Japan, the guys are working on making this standard into a national code.
Knowing that you are probably not going to die is certainly reassuring, but it does little in overcoming the fear of actually leaping off the edge. Even though the staff maintain the strictest safety regulations and do everything to create a fun atmosphere, jumping off a 77m bridge is always going to be scary, and the final decision is ultimately in your hands. On the day of my jump several mascots including the local Itsuki-chan, TV personalities and people from the area took the plunge amidst some very untimely rain, which only made the scene more dramatic.
After a week of ups and downs, as I watched the jumpers before me take to the platform and consider their options before taking the plunge, I realised that these feelings are a completely natural and necessary part of the experience. The thrill of bungy jumping is overcoming everything inside you that instinctively tells you not to do it.
And so, by the time the young girl before me was sent screeching to the river below and my turn had come, I was about as ready as I would ever be. When the countdown ends, there’s nothing to do but put that fear behind you and just jump, and the instant you do feels like a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders – about as close as you can get to flying in both the literal and metaphoric sense. In an instant the fear disappears and is replaced by an elated joy as you realise you’ve done it! All of a sudden you want this moment you feared to last longer, to savour the sensation of letting everything go. That moment directly after jumping, the sudden rush, is a feeling that can’t be compared to anything else, and will stay with you long after your wobbly legs are back safely on firm ground.
New! Fukuoka Now Bungy Prize Winner!
Andreas Norden won a FREE Bungy Jump from Fukuoka Now, care of Bungy Japan when he amassed a huge 145 votes on our facebook competition. Andreas is originally from Germany and has been in Fukuoka for 6 months studying at the Asahi Japanese School. When he found out that he had won, he was excited about the jump, and grateful for the support he received from both his Japanese friends and friends back home. “The reason I entered the competition,” he said “is because my time in Japan so far has been a journey in which I feel I’ve really grown up. When I arrived in Japan in August last year, I was very shy, but I have slowly become more confident. Doing this bungy jump will be the ultimate way to prove I’ve overcome my fears!” When we asked him if he was scared about the jump, he replied “Not really,” explaining that he had received some words of encouragement from his grandma, who did a parachute jump in Germany at age 50! Andreas made the trip down to the bungy site at Itsuki Mura on March 19, and made a perfectly executed jump!
Elated after the jump, he told us, “It was awesome. Bungy Jumping is way better than rollercoasters. Beyond that the staff and the other participants were so friendly. I made a lot of new friends.” See Andreas’ own video detailing his bungy experience below
Itsuki Mura Bungy Event 2013
Is your 2013 New Year resolution to challenge yourself and step out of your comfort zone? Got a bucket list box that needs to be ticked? From March 16th to March 30th 2013, Bungy Japan will descend upon the tiny town of Itsuki-Mura to offer everyone the chance to experience world class bungy thrills in a stunning location. After the success of the Itsuki Mura outdoor week in 2012, the Bungy Japan crew will be returning for 2 weeks to this picturesque town located in Kumamoto, Kyushu. At 77m this is the highest bridge bungy jump in Japan. High above the Kawabe River this is your chance to step out of your comfort zone and launch yourself into the next level. While you are there you can also experience what the local community has to offer, the beautiful scenery, crystal clear water, and much more. Japan’s only Bungy professionals, Bungy Japan, are taking limited bookings, and priority will be given to online sign-ups.
• Itsuki-Mura, Kumamoto
• ¥10,000 per person
• Official HP: http://bungyjapan.com/en/
• Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/309303365838612/