Bungy Japan

Bungy Japan

Take the plunge in Gunma


Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on August 2009

By Satono Yamazaki

By Satono Yamazaki

“It is absolute, pure, unadulterated fear that you feel when you stand on the edge of a bungy platform,” says Charles Odlin. “Your legs are shaking, your palms are sweaty and your mouth is suddenly very dry, but you have to stand there, face it and get over it. When you feel your feet—perhaps rather reluctantly—leave the edge, you know that you have achieved something pretty special, and that is when the euphoria sets in.”

It was this ecstasy that first attracted the New Zealand native to the sport, and led him to set up Bungy Japan. The company now operates a bridge jump site in Minakami, Gunma Prefecture, about 90 minutes from Tokyo, which draws thrill-seekers from as far afield as Osaka and Aomori.

Odlin first organized jumps at the site as part of the ten-day Minakami Adventure Festival in 2005, but his experience in the field goes back much further. “Minakami is the culmination of over ten years of bungy jumping in both Japan and New Zealand,” he explains. “I helped establish Japan’s first bridge bungy jump in Yamagata in 1995, and I worked on the Auckland Harbor Bridge bungy jump site for four years from its opening in 2003.”

Bungy Japan has proved his biggest challenge to date, though not in the way you might expect. After getting off to a promising start, the company ran into a number of problems, first with the local and then the prefectural authorities. Odlin realized he might be in for a difficult time when, in spite of the success of the inaugural event, permission for a repeat the following year was inexplicably denied at the last minute. Things went better in 2007, when Bungy Japan was granted a six-week stint, and this was extended to a full six-month season last year.

However, the company was forced to suspend operations again when jurisdiction over the bridge site switched from the local town to the prefectural government. The relationship that Odlin had developed with the Minakami tourist board didn’t do him any favors when it was revealed that the latter had gone massively over-budget during the previous year. Ultimately, though, this would work in his favor.

“After the dust had cleared and the appropriate heads had rolled, the newly formed tourism board realized that they needed money fast,” he recalls. “And the only revenue stream they had was from the percentage of sales they were receiving from bungy jumping.

“Suddenly, after eight months of pushing our case, the right pieces fell into place and the right people got behind us. Our permission request went from the bottom of the pile to the top, and we finally got to put our case to the prefecture.”

Odlin had been running a tight operation up to this point, drawing on his extensive experience in the business. The procedures at Bungy Japan conform to the strict Code of Practice for Bungy Jumping, and a series of checks and backup systems remove the potential for error. Of the 40 active certified bungy Jumpmasters in the world, four are working at the site this year. Yet surprisingly, the prefectural government “hadn’t even considered” some of these points.

“The most frustrating thing about doing this sort of business in a small town in Japan is that all of our experience and safety standards, and any thought of how a business such as ours is of benefit to the local tourism industry and economy, are secondary to and at the whim of political maneuvering and money,” Odlin confesses. “Unfortunately, even now the thinking is still not on how to effectively use any revenue from bungy jumping on developing local tourism, but more on how they can pay this debt back as soon as possible.”

It’s enough to make you want to chuck yourself off a bridge—with a cord attached, of course.
“With everything going on in the world right now I think that bungy jumping—and all outdoor adventure sports, for that matter—offers the perfect antidote,” says Odlin. “It gives people the chance to challenge themselves, step out of their comfort zone a little and experience a sense of achievement from doing that. This is what attracted me to bungy jumping, and it’s what leaves people with smiles on their faces for a long time after it’s done.”

Open until November 15 (check website for schedule). First jump costs ¥7,500. Jumpers must be over 13 years and weigh between 40-105kg. Visit www.bungyjapan.com or email info@bungyjapan.com for more information or to make a booking.