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Heather Greenwood Davis nervously awaits her trip over a 20-metre high waterfall in Minakami.

<252>Heather Greenwood Davis

My kids are trying to kill me. A bold statement? Maybe, but it's true. Those once tiny bundles of joy have grown increasingly evil.

There was a time when I could plop my dynamic duo into a stroller, push them around a theme park and they'd be happy as pigs in mud.

Lately, the smiles seem biggest when they're climbing up or falling off something.

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In a family where what we do when we travel has turned into a democracy, the fact that they can get their father onside and outnumber me has led to a series of "adventures" that all seem to share one key commonality: my likely demise.

Case in point: This summer we spent three weeks exploring Japan. The first two had us in Hokkaido – a region full of cultural interactions and incredible history. The last week took us to what I thought would be a relaxing, laid back vacation in rural Minakami.

But Minakami, it turns out, is the adventure capital of Japan.

It wasn't always this way. For much of its existence the area was the apple of corporate retreat planners' eyes. When the Japanese economic bubble burst in the late 1980s, Tokyo's surrounding hot-spring towns in areas such as Minakami lost the big company dollars that were keeping them afloat.

Many say the backpack-wearing adventurers who'd started coming through to explore on their own are what saved the town from certain doom.

Mike Harris, originally from New Zealand, was one of those early adopters.

"For most people, Japan is about culture," he says. "People think tech, temples and food." What they're not realizing, he explains, is that it's also an incredible place to experience nature.

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These days, as the owner of Canyons – an outdoor adventure company that takes advantage of the rolling hills and steep cliffs of the region, Harris is welcoming guests of all ages who are looking to safely raft, mountain bike, bungee jump, canyon climb and more.

Thing is, my adventure gene took a beating when I became a mother. Where once I might've considered the thrill of jumping out of plane, now I find myself making choices based on the fact that I want to live to see weddings, graduations and school plays.

But my teenage boys tend to operate on one question only: Is this awesome?

If the answer is yes, they're in. And if they're in, chances are I'll be guilted and goaded to follow. In part because I don't want to be the lame mom who ruined the moment and in part because the teasing that will follow if I chicken out will become the stuff family legends are made of.

And so here I am, clad in a helmet, life jacket and wetsuit, first standing and waiting to slide backward off a cliff (but avoid crashing face-first into the wall in front of me), then rappelling partway down a 20 metre-high waterfall before jumping into the abyss below. All while my loving children yell, "Jump! Jump! Jump!"

And like a fool I did it. Mine was the scream heard across the universe. While there is no denying the rush of adrenalin that shot through my body almost as quickly as the plunge forced snot from my nostrils, equally undeniable was the look of respect on my boys' faces as I lay panting like a limp seal after climbing up on the rocks below.

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Worth it.

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Your turn

Where: Minakami, Gunma – about 1.5 hours from Tokyo by train

What: Canyons offers 16 canyoning courses ranging in suitability from newbies to extreme enthusiasts. Kids 13 and older will have plenty of options.

When: Canyoning happens between April and October. If you're more of a winter lover try snow canyoning between January and March.

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How much: The "Fox Canyon" adventure, which includes that 20 metre waterfall, is about 9,500 yen ($106) a person for a half-day adventure. There are also package prices available that combine the canyoning with rafting or other activities and include a hot lunch on-site.

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