Are you someone who moved to Japan and is interested in volunteering during your free time? Volunteering is a great way to get involved with your community and meet new people. It is okay if you do not speak Japanese just yet, we are here to help you find some volunteer opportunities to suit your needs and language abilities. This guide is going to answer your most asked questions and help jumpstart your volunteer journey while living in Japan.
This article is part of our extensive series on Learning about Japan and Learning Japanese with BFF Tokyo.
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Do I Need to Speak Japanese to Do Volunteering in Japan
The short answer is absolutely not! This guide is to make your life easier and tell you how to navigate volunteer life in Japan as an English speaker. In addition, we will cover group and solo volunteering, how to get started, and useful Japanese phrases you can use.
We have researched volunteer programs around Japan that do not require any level of Japanese language ability you can take part. In addition, in these programs there will be no issue communicating with organizers and team members in English, so a language barrier will be the least of your worries!
If you are worried that you may be helping someone who does not speak English, there will most likely be at least one person on site who can speak Japanese and help translate your interaction. Also if your program tells you that Japanese language ability is not required, they will have someone to help you.
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Types of Volunteering in Japan
To begin with, there are plenty of different volunteer opportunities in any country. If you are looking for group work, you will want to reach out to different volunteer communities and organizations. This will help you find ongoing events that coincide with your volunteer schedule.
However, since you do not speak Japanese, your volunteer options can be limited to larger organizations. Of course, there are Japanese volunteer programs that will require you to speak Japanese. Local groups may not have an English-speaking member to help translate and communicate with you, but there are numerous English-friendly programs that you will read about below. Also, some programs are just looking for anyone that can help out to complete a task.
On the other hand, there are some opportunities where English speakers are the best fit for the job. Plenty of people in Japan speak English and sometimes they are going to need help. There are also global impact opportunities based in Japan that will not require you to speak Japanese and may prefer English.
Before you get started volunteering
To begin with, you need to decide what kind of volunteer work you are interested in. If you have no preference, you can continue on in this guide and we’ll help you narrow down where you can do the best! If you have specific tasks in mind or skills you’d like to contribute, our guide can help you to find the right fit for you.
Keep in mind, there are key aspects of your life that will determine the kinds of volunteer work that will best fit your schedule. If you are unemployed, you are very likely to have more availability during the week than those who are working. Those who are employed may be restricted to evenings if you would like to keep your weekends free. Couples might want to keep evenings free or just weekends to spend time together. The commitment to volunteer work will depend on the workload you have and what you are willing to put in. Even though you are unemployed, you may still not want to volunteer full-time. The following are a few ideas of different types of volunteering you can do.
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First off, this volunteer work involves children. Opportunities include volunteering at a school, daycare, or residence. This is pretty lighthearted work for people who enjoy caretaking tasks and working with and spending lots of time with children.
Keep in mind, these volunteer schedules are typically going to be more demanding. They usually have a set schedule that you will create when signing up for the job. There are also opportunities with programs supporting abused, neglected, and orphaned children.
Childcare volunteering requires giving your time and providing physical and emotional support. This work can be one of the most difficult to take on mentally. It can be very rewarding, but the reality of the situation is a lot to handle for certain people. As a result, it is recommended that you have prior experience in this line of work or are extremely passionate.
If this is a cause you are very interested in supporting but your schedule does not allow for you to donate the time, you can always donate money and supplies directly to the programs.
Next, is a volunteer job looking for social change. This work is to fight the gender inequality that is embedded in societies. For example, this can include helping victims of violence and discrimination or becoming members of women’s rights activism groups in the area. For victims, you can donate whatever your schedule allows for whether it be time, money, and/or supplies.
The groups you can join are looking to educate the population on the issues and create change. They often have lectures, art exhibitions, magazine subscriptions, or general assemblies.
Becoming a member and educating yourself on the culture and women’s role in society is important for you to pass your knowledge on. Permanent change must come from within and Japan is falling behind in progress revolving around women’s rights. Becoming a member of one of these programs is the best thing that you can do for them.
Here are a few English-friendly programs in Japan that you can show your support by donating to or joining, the Women’s Action Network, National Women’s Education Center, Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center, and the Working Women’s Network.
If you are passionate about saving the Earth, this is the volunteer job for you. For example, this can include trash pick-ups, assisting in research, planting flowers and pulling weeds, and educating yourself to protect wildlife.
Volunteering for conservation or environmentalism is very hands-on, but typically has flexible schedules. Within these programs, they often have events like beach or garden clean-ups displayed on their website in the form of a calendar and you complete a sign-up for the events individually. A lot of the programs ask that you meet a quota of hours per month, but it is up to you when to work.
This work is great for people who enjoy working outside and are passionate about animals and the environment. National Parks of Japan is a large organization that has a variety of projects going on including animal conservation projects, research projects, and gardening projects all available for you! They partner with an organization called Japan’s Ministry of the Environment (MOE) as well as community organizations. The community organizations are smaller and will not be as accommodating to speaking English, so MOE may be the better option for you. MOE organizes clean-ups and designs restricted access to areas in need.
Coming next is volunteer work around your community. This can include food and clothing drives, clean-up parks, streets, and playgrounds, recycling, starting a community garden, and organizing a newsletter.
Community volunteering is most likely going to be the most difficult to participate in as a foreigner, and the possibility of this option will completely depend on where you are staying. In addition, this volunteer work will be where you would run into the most problems involving language barriers.
To benefit your community the best thing will be to find an English-friendly program that is close to where you are staying. All things considered, always volunteer with an organization and never organize anything on your own. If you can not converse using Japanese, you can easily miss what you are and are not allowed to do. We advise against this form of volunteer work since it is not often English-friendly.
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Furthermore, volunteering to provide aid for those affected by natural disasters. Earthquakes are common in Japan and can trigger tsunamis that are devastating to communities. Many disasters are still recovering from incidents years ago.
Fukushima is a good example of this, there was a nuclear disaster in 2011 that was the result of an earthquake causing a tsunami. Earlier this year in March, there was an earthquake that caused destruction in Fukushima. As a result, these are recent and long-term disasters that require relief.
These opportunities are situational and we could not find any large projects at the moment. However, they are looking for anyone to help when disasters strike. For example, they often include food and clothing drives, rebuilding projects, clean-ups, and general support. Donations are almost always accepted. Providing whatever you can at a time like this is greatly appreciated.
Disabled/ Elderly care
Lastly, is working and caring for the disabled and the elderly. This will be another more difficult cause to fulfill abroad because of the language barrier. It is also harder to get involved in this line of work because of COVID. Arriving from overseas you will have to wait a minimum of a couple of weeks before you can start getting involved.
The best option if you are interested in this line of work would be with a cleaning crew, so you are not really in contact with the person. This way the language barrier will not be relevant and you are still helping them out.
Habitat for Humanity Japan is an organization that does house cleanings for the elderly or disabled. Consequently, they are very cautious when it comes to contamination and they most definitely have the people's and family's best interests in mind. They are decluttering and sanitizing the house for a safer and better living environment.
These jobs are not as frequent, so they are good for busy people. Also, if you enjoy cleaning and organizing or are very passionate about this cause, this is the job for you.
Did any of these descriptions interest you? Finding a program that is a good fit is so important for volunteer work. Giving back to a community can be a personal adventure, so you should be comfortable and confident in the program you are donating your time, money, or supplies to.
Volunteering Programs around Japan
Volunteering in your community and surrounding areas are going to give you connections and build your resume. Also, it can introduce you to neighbors and others in your area that you can get to know. You may have the opportunity to start picking up on some Japanese to help you converse with locals. There are tons of volunteer programs all around Japan. The work is always changing, so do not get discouraged if you do not find the work you are looking for immediately!
In order to make your search as easy as possible, we picked 10 organizations that are doing great work and definitely worth checking out. Before you do, we recommend downloading a translation extension for your browser in case any of the websites are in Japanese:
Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL)
First, we have Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL) and they are a mental health support system for the international community. The statement on their website says, “TELL is dedicated to providing effective support and counseling services to Japan’s international community and its increasing mental health needs.”
TELL runs a mental health support system for international students and they use donations, fundraising, donors, and volunteers to continue providing their services. For example, these services include both a lifeline hotline and chat. For those struggling with the thoughts of suicide or are concerned that someone they love is struggling with these thoughts, a phone call and texting line are available. They also run a clinic offering professional counseling and psychological assessments. They also have events in the community.
If you are interested in volunteering at TELL visit their volunteer page to get involved. For example, they offer volunteer positions working TELL events, in their business office, or as a lifeline support worker, this requires additional training provided by them. The events are for awareness and fundraising and you can help with set-up, clean-up, and registration.
Second, we have Hands-on Tokyo, they are a program that provides all different kinds of volunteer opportunities. Their mission statement on their website says, “Hands On Tokyo provides meaningful bilingual volunteer opportunities to foster volunteerism and develop leaders to serve the needs of our community. We aim for a society where each individual is valued, and where people proactively support each other.”
At the present time, they currently have 18 different active projects listed on their website. Registration is required and the form is located on the volunteer registration page of their website. Particularly their focus areas are children and youth in need, special needs, nursing homes, environment, youth impact, and LIVES projects. They cover so many different causes and have lots of ongoing projects. You can participate in any of them or donate to the cause directly. Hands-on Tokyo is a great program to get involved with!
Third, is Second Harvest and they are the only national food bank in Japan. They are registered as a non-profit by the Japanese Government and they define their purpose as, “Second Harvest Japan aims to create a Food Safety Net in Japan.” Their website is very informative and they are a reliable organization.
You can get involved by donating money or food to them directly or you can volunteer with them at their events. Second Harvest has different tasks that you can volunteer to do which include meal delivery, making meal boxes, preparing the meals, distributing the meals, packaging the pantry, or pantry pick-up. In addition, they also have food for kids' events where you can work and the food is sent to a childcare facility.
They also offer the opportunity for you to organize your own food drive or adopt a family to send food to. In addition, it is a great place to begin volunteering and the amount of time you donate is completely up to you, so it caters to everyone. If you start volunteering and then your schedule becomes too full, you can always take a step back and just buy some extra groceries to drop off. You can still make a difference!
Japan International Volunteer Center
Fourth is Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC) and they promote the idea of a peaceful world where everyone is able to coexist. They are currently present in 23 countries and have four missions they want to live by. The missions are, “We will conserve natural resources and respect the sovereignty of residents. Realize a just society and restore people's rights. We will realize a symbiotic society that accepts differences. We transform society through policy proposals.”
Their website is very informative of their message and they encourage you to live by these missions. Getting involved and showing your support is very easy, simply being kind and speaking out against intolerance and negativity can begin the change they desire. JVC's website explains donations of money or goods, how to support their brands, promote them on social media, and you can volunteer with ongoing and available projects.
Currently, there are two events you can support. One is purchasing a JVC calendar at the Crayon House store in Osaka and the other is getting involved in their event to support South Sudan by delivering plastic sheets. All their information is on their website, this program is one to bookmark and keep up with the available events because they have a lot of really cool things going on.
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Mirai No Mori
Coming in fifth, Mirai No Mori is an organization to provide support for children in need. They have a statement about themselves that can be found on their website, “Mirai no Mori is a not-for-profit organization that creates life-changing outdoor programs for abused, neglected, and orphaned youths in Japan, supporting their growth into happy and successful young adults.”
They offer different camps that the children can attend where they are taught all different types of skills. You can show your support by donating to them or their partners, becoming a sponsor, or volunteering your time. They have great explanations about donation plans. Also, they offer all different ways to donate and tell you exactly what it will go towards.
For example, their volunteer work includes organizing fundraisers, promoting them on all social media platforms, designing a camp t-shirt, and becoming a part of the camp staff. This is a great way to get involved and support children in need. They offer plenty of ways to show your support and are worth checking out.
Social Innovation Japan
Next is Social Innovation Japan and they exist to promote social change. They tell their story on their website, “Our founding members have extensive experience working on social and environmental challenges; from post-disaster recovery in rural Japan to the Himalayas, to supporting Diversity and Inclusion in corporations and launching tech startups tackling environmental challenges.”
If the desire for social change interests you or you are open to doing a variety of different volunteer jobs, you can sign up to be a volunteer by scrolling to the very bottom of their home page where you can find the registration form. Moreover, this is a great program to join if you are interested in learning leadership and problem-solving skills. Also, you can apply them to create change, solve real-world issues, and make a difference.
Place to Grow
Coming next is Place to grow and they are a non-profit organization whose mission is, “To inspire the next generation of Tohoku” They were founded in 2011 after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters occurred. Place to Grow began as a first responders emergency aid organization and has grown to be able to provide long-term support now.
Their volunteer work has a very set schedule that requires 5-8 hours of volunteer work per month depending on your role. Keep in mind, this program is great for those looking to have regular volunteer opportunities and does not have a lot of other demanding factors in their lives.
The volunteer opportunities include working in programming, marketing, administration, or interning. More details and descriptions about Place to Grow and their volunteering opportunities can be found on their website.
If you are dedicated to volunteering and are interested in disaster relief this volunteer job will be perfect for you!
Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK)
Furthermore, ARK was established in 1990 and was recognized as a non-profit in ‘99. “ARK is a non-profit, non-governmental private organization with the aim of forming a network of people who love animals, believe in sharing their lives with them, and who work actively to rescue them from suffering.” Since ‘91 ARK has had adoption records of 3274 dogs and 1390 cats.
To show your support you can become a member, donate money and supplies, sponsor a pet, foster or adopt a pet, or volunteer at one of their locations (Tokyo or Osaka). In addition, their page is full of questions and answers for all the ways you can get involved.
If you love animals and have some free time to go to the Tokyo or Osaka area to hang out with some animals this is the place for you. If you are not close to either location there are plenty of other ways to get involved if this organization tugged at your heartstrings.
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Refugee Empowerment International (REI)
In addition, “Refugee Empowerment International is an independent non-profit organization based in Japan and Australia that raises funds to support projects for people displaced by violence, conflict, or persecution around the world. Projects that enable people to give back to the community and make valuable contributions to the local economy as well as rebuilding their own future.”
REI looks for projects that empower their four pillars: education, job creation, legal and human rights, and environment and community building. They have funded over 800 projects since 1979 and pride themselves in their transparency. Overall, they are for the people and truly want to help refugees all over the world. You can find their five-year plan and even see exactly where your donations are going to and being used for.
Their volunteer opportunities include donating money, becoming a donor, volunteering time, and becoming an intern. They say volunteering can range from 4-15 hours, but that is depending on your dedication. REI encourages its volunteers to bring their talents and ideas to the table and speak up.
REI is a great program for refugee support and has a lot to offer to everyone. You can decide how much of your time you are interested in giving and you are becoming a part of some very impactful projects!
Tokyo River Friends
Finally, we have Tokyo River Friends. Their message is, “We aim for people to experience the majesty of the rivers in and around Tokyo up close while engaging in productive and fun activities like regular river clean-ups followed by picnics or barbecues along the rivers or Tokyo bay waterfronts.” Tokyo River Friends was established in 2017 to focus on regular river clean-ups in Tokyo. This organization is a great way to make a difference and meet friends while doing it.
Tokyo River Friends is a young organization and is still growing, so the turnouts for events are not as much. Smaller groups mixed with a volunteering activity that will produce immediate results are a great way to build relationships. Therefore, everyone can encourage each other and have a chance to get to know each other while cleaning up the rivers in Tokyo.
To get involved you can contact them on their website and sign up for their newsletter. After that, you can begin showing up for events and get to making relationships and making a difference!
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Getting Started With Volunteering
After looking through the Ultimate Guide to Volunteering in Japan and finding the volunteer job that is right for you, getting started is pretty easy.
- The first step will always be to reach out. Every organization will have a website, homepage link, and volunteer signup link and those for the organizations listed have been provided in the list above.
- In case you found your volunteer opportunity elsewhere, you will just need to go to your organization’s homepage and find a tab or link that says get involved or support us, or even volunteer here. Clicking on that will get you to a sign-up sheet or contact information for the organization. Most programs and organizations will have a registration for you to fill out.
- You will need to read and agree to the terms and conditions and give them your contact information, which almost always consists of your first and last name and email.
- If you cannot find it we suggest reaching out to a provided email or phone number on the website to get the answers you are looking for.
Prominent organizations will answer all your questions on the website or be reachable to provide answers you could not find on your own. If you are finding it difficult to get answers and get involved, finding another organization is advised.
After you have completed these steps, you should be good to go! Depending on how the program is run they will have you set up a schedule or begin signing up for events through their website and you can start volunteering in Japan!
Useful Japanese Phrases when Volunteering in Japan
If you are worried that you may be helping someone who does not speak English, there will most likely be at least one person on site who can speak Japanese and help translate your interaction.
Even though you are not required to speak conversational Japanese at the place you are volunteering, it still makes a good impression and is a useful tool to have some simple phrases memorized.
On the contrary, do not be alarmed if you cannot hold a conversation, knowing a few phrases can get the word across to someone you are talking to and bring both of you to an understanding. We are here to tell you what phrases to learn and the best translation to use.
These are considered to be your survival phrases and will make your life a lot easier when casually conversing in Japan:
|Hello, my name is||Konnichiwa, watashi wa (name) desu||こんにちは、わたしは（なまえ）です|
|Goodbye or see you later||Jaa, mata||じゃあ、また|
|Yes, how can I help you||Hai dousare mashitaka||はい、どうされましたか|
|Can you please help me?||Tetsudatte kuremasen ka?||てつだってくれませんか？|
|I do not understand||Wakari masen||わかりません|
|I understand||Wakari masu||わかります|
|Thank you very much||Arigatō gozaimasu||ありがとうございます|
|What is your name?||Onamae wa nan desu ka?||おなまえはなんですか？|
|How can I help you||Dousare mashitaka||どうされましたか|
|Do you speak English?||Eigo wo hanasemasu ka？||えいごをはなせますか？|
|I do not know Japanese||Nihongo wo hanasemasen||にほんごをはなせません|
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Next, if you become comfortable with the survival phrases, you can take it a step further and learn some other volunteer-specific phrases:
|Do you need help?||Otetsudai irimasuka?||おてつだいいりますか？|
|May I help you with that?||Sore wo tetsudattemo iidesuka?||それをてつだってもいいですか？|
|What is wrong?||Dōsare mashitaka？||どうされましたか？|
|I can direct you to someone who can help||Tasukete kureru hitoni annai dekimasu||たすけてくれるひとにあんないできます|
|What can I get for you?||Nanika totteage mashouka?||なにかとってあげましょうか？|
|Have a good day||Yoi ichinichiwo sugoshite kudasai||よいいちにちをすごしてください|
|Have a good evening||Yoi Banwo sugoshite kudasai||よいばんをすごしてください|
|Have a good night||Oyasumi nasai||おやすみなさい|
|Can you show me?||Annai shitemorattemo iidesuka?||あんないしてもらってもいいですか？|
|I can walk the dog/ cat||Watashi ga sannpo ni tsurete ikimasuyo||わたしがさんぽにつれていきますよ|
|Where can I put these/this?||Kore wo doko ni okeba iideshouka?||これをどこにおけばいいでしょうか？|
|Do you still need my help?||Otasuke hitsuyou desuka?||おたすけひつようですか？|
|Are you alright?||Daijoubu desuka?||だいじょうぶですか？|
|I hope to see you again soon||Mata oaishimashou||またおあいしましょう|
To conclude, you may not be able to keep up a conversation or always understand the response, but attempting and showing that you are trying will go a long way, especially in this line of work. This is also a perfect opportunity to practice speaking and listening to Japanese, maybe you will start to understand what is being said back to you!
By following our Ultimate Guide to Volunteering in Japan we hope that you have the best and easiest experience of getting involved with Japan. We have tried to cover just about everything you could think of when starting your English-speaking volunteer journey. Wishing you the best of luck living in Japan and now volunteering. We hope the experiences are everything you hope for and that you make memories and friends that will you cherish for the rest of your life.
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