Perspective above Mount Fuji


I am not a sport’s person. I’m a dog person, occasionally a cat person, but I definitely do not like sports. However, there’s an exception to every rule, and I have finally found a sport that I like. Love. Want to do over and over again, maybe even multiple times in one day. It involves harnesses, and strapping someone to your back… if you’re into that kind of thing.




Skydiving is my new chocolate (and when I say chocolate I mean…). It’s incredible. It’s exhilarating. It’s exactly what you’d expect when you imagine jumping out of a plane: lots of air, adrenaline, and “holy sh@ts!”

The idea of skydiving was planted by my Japanese professor in college. Shortly after arriving in America, she decided to go skydiving. She thought it was the next step after leaving her life in Japan and permanently moving abroad by herself.  She had already taken a metaphorical leap, so why not go for the real deal? Apparently her English wasn’t “good” when she went, but the fear of misunderstanding an instruction made it that much more thrilling. “Did he say left or right?” literally became a life or death question.

The experience made her feel more confident, not just with her language skills, but in every facet of her life. Also, she said that it was freaking awesome. Boom. Inception. Skydiving was now lingering in the space of my mind that rarely gets visited, waiting for inspiration.


In January, I received my failure notice for the JLPT 2. I didn’t study, but if I’m honest, I didn’t feel like I needed to. I was living in Japan! I studied Japanese throughout university and did a study abroad. My grandmother was Japanese! Surely if I could navigate the metro system and order things off a menu, then I could pass a test. It really sucks to be wrong. It really sucks to have a piece of paper that verifies that you don’t know how to read all the things that get passed around the office. That verifies that you didn’t get the joke Kocho-sensei told at the enkai. That sometimes you don’t know what your cousins are talking about in their emails.


IMG_1782It wasn’t that same day, but around that time I looked up skydiving in Japan. Being the master of independent research as I am, I googled: skydive Japan. I found two drop-zones, one in Tajima and one in Saitama. Although Tajima is by far closer than the Saitama location, posts from people who have been to both said they preferred the Saitama drop for the scenery and experience. I went to the Tokyo Skydiving Club ( http://www.tokyoskydivingclub.jp/) website, found the tandem jump schedule, picked a date and signed up.


I really lucked out for the dates. As far as weather goes March is really a hit or miss in Japan, but that weekend was glorious. It was perfectly spring, sunny, and lovely. I’ve been to Tokyo many times and never seen Mount Fuji so clearly.

The Skydiving Club is situated in two caravans set up next to the drop site. Most of the crew understand and speak English pretty well, and were very friendly. The training was super-fast. I got into a suit, the kind that gas station workers wear, and met my sky-diving teacher, Keizo. After pleasantries, the first question was, “Do you understand Japanese?” I answered yes, and from there on, English was out. He strapped me into the chute-suit, made sure it was on right, then taught me the basic skills of the jump. He taught me the “banana bend,” a jump position DSC00026which prevents neck injuries, then led me to his truck and had me sit on the back and dangle my legs over. “This is what you’ll do before we jump.” That terrified me. I imagined the world beneath the truck, beneath my dangling feet, ant-like and small.


Five minutes later we were in a van being driven to the plane, a teeny, tiny box of metal. They packed twelve of us – literally butt to butt – onto the plane and took off. The flight up was only a few moments – moments I spent trying to avoid eye contact with the cameraman who was filming what could have been the end.  Keizo firmly squeezed my arm from behind me and told me to put my goggles on. It was go time. I watched in horrified fascination as the others jumped before me, feeling the airplane dip and lift every time one left. When it was our turn we crab-crawled to the edge of the plane. I swung my legs out and saw Mount Fuji, so beautiful, so small. I could see my neon sneakers hovering over Saitama. It was so clear. Keizo asked if I was ready.


For one whole minute we fell at full force. It was very uncomfortable. The air pressure made my eyes water annd my cheeks puff apart like a dog sticking its head out the car window. I kept trying to touch my face, to adjust my goggles, to hold it together, but I couldn’t move my arms out of a flying squirrel position.

Once the parachute was pulled it was a graceful and wonderful float of about ten minutes to the landing zone. It was amazing. It changed nothing. It changed everything. Do it. Do it. DO IT. When I was finally back on the ground I couldn’t stop looking up.


Skydiving didn’t change the way I feel about life, aside from opening my mind to extreme sporting, but it did put things into perspective. A thousands-of-miles-above-earth-and-falling–towards-it kind of perspective, and that’s nice. It’s what I needed. The JLPT doesn’t test what I want to achieve by learning Japanese, not like solo travel, meeting and talking/listening to new people, and, yes, skydiving do. Being in Japan as a JET, we’ve all taken a leap of faith into the unexplored, and we’ve all had moments when we’re unsure whether we’re “doing it right.”  From this experience I realized it doesn’t matter much if I miss a few kanji, or if I don’t understand everything. I can still enjoy the ride. I’d much rather test my understanding 1,000  miles above earth than stuck at a desk for a few hours anyway.



Allison Stanfield


All photos courtesy of the Tokyo Skydiving Club

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