Unknown Found: Overcoming Fears of Bungee Jumping in Japan

bungee jumping

Written by Katherine Parker-Magyar on

Katherine is a travel and culture writer based in New York City. She has traveled to all 7 continents, 86 countries, and all 50 states; follow along on Instagram @katherineparkermagyar or visit her website.

bungee jumping

The writer experienced bungee jumping for the first time while living abroad in Osaka. Pushed to the edge of her comfort zone, she learned how to conquer her fear and reap the true rewards of adventure travel.

I was sixteen years old, standing atop a hillside somewhere along the south coast of the island of Honshu, Japan.

And I was about to jump off a cliff.

At that moment in time, it was roughly 50/50 on whether I was leaping to my death.

I don’t mean that as an exaggeration. Quite literally, the two Japanese teenagers standing beside me at this vertiginous and precarious moment were in full agreement on my odds of survival. It didn’t look good. (It didn’t feel like a very good idea, either.)

I had never been bungee jumping before in my life (all sixteen hormonal, pubescent years of it) and Osaka seemed like a strange place to start. Not least because I couldn’t understand the instructions conveyed to me in Japanese—instructructions at first shared lackadaisically (we were all teenagers, after all), and then with a morbid sense of urgency.

The bungee instructors were barely older than me, it seemed. Certainly they hadn’t yet graduated high school—a rite of passage that seemed increasingly unlikely for me to ever experience as well.

What if I died up here? Or, to be more precise: down there. I imagined my death would occur moments after my upcoming free fall, when I reached the end of my rope suspended in mid-air. I wasn’t alone in my fearful daydreams as my companions beside me pantomimed their own fears with a tilt of the neck and a horrified (yet noiseless) scream. Were my vocal chords the first to go?

It was only the first week of my trip, I’d only unpacked my bags at the home of my host family a few days beforehand. I was on a trip to Japan as an exchange student with the Rotary program after my junior year of high school. It was my first time packing for an international trip all by myself. And now here I was, truly, leaping into the unknown.

And yet, despite being terrified, despite being convinced beyond all reason that nothing good would come of this (and potentially a lot of bad), I faced my mortality. I leapt.

Those moments in mid-air while flying through the night sky of Japan exhilarated me. I heard the applause of my host family below, and when the rope came toward its end, I loosened my posture (fear of the neck), and bounced right back up into the air.

I survived.

Having faced my fear head-on, I felt stronger and more alive than I ever had before. Maybe I was foolish; maybe I had too much faith that things would work out. But they did, and it’s informed my mindset ever since—to be more adventurous, to be more courageous, to be less afraid.

These adventure travel experiences I had when I was younger led me onto the adventurous path I have as a travel writer today, where I’m constantly throwing my gear in a suitcase to explore different cultures and push myself to the limits of my comfort zone. I credit those moments of adventure when I was young with leading to my life as a traveler today.

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