If you have a desire to explore the Far East, and a love for beauty and formality, then volunteering in Japan is a perfect opportunity for you. The notion of volunteering abroad is far less prominent in Eastern societies, but the needs remain great, which means it will be very easy for international volunteers to find volunteer projects in Japan in most fields. When you pair the opportunity to volunteer in Japan with the nation’s luscious green hills, sweetly exotic foods, and thousand year old traditions still driving society today, Japan is a dream destination for international volunteering.
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Volunteer work in Japan is a wonderful opportunity to experience a blend of both Western and Eastern culture. While you’ll be able to find western niceties—such as throne style toilets and familiar vegetables—the thought processes that drive Japanese life are very different. With very localized branches of Buddhism and Shintoism, and a high reverence for formality in customer service, you’ll have a rich cultural experience everywhere you go.
There are volunteer programs in Japan are available in numerous cities across the archipelago of Japan, although Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are the most popular. Tokyo is a financial center of the world, while the original capital of Kyoto is a hub for education and eastern religions. Osaka is known as “the nation’s kitchen” with modern takes on traditional Japanese dishes. All three are highly strategic for individuals interested in volunteering in Japan in more urban settings where they can also experience classic Japanese culture.
If you’re looking to get off the tourist track and see a different side of Japan, you may also want to volunteer in Fukuoka--recently voted the “easiest city to live in” in the world--or surrounded by the breathtaking views of Gifu. Both cities offer sustainable Japanese volunteer programs in a variety of fields for those who want to make a difference off the beaten path.
Wherever you volunteer in Japan, you’ll notice the country is very clean and decadent. Subtleties in communication are important, such as handing everything—including pens, change, or business cards—with two hands. Customers and foreigners are treated with the utmost respect, but this hospitality should also be reciprocated and mirrored. Of course this formality is nothing to fear; in fact, you’ll love how comfortable and at home Japanese culture makes you feel during your volunteer work in Japan.
Projects & Placements
Volunteering abroad in Japan will be an unforgettable experience regardless of the specific volunteer work you do. That being said, Japanese culture offers a great environment for volunteering in art preservation, environmental research, elderly care, and historic conservation. These are four unique industries in Japan, each operating with very different philosophies as those found in the west. For example, Japan is home to very ancient art forms, which are both enjoyed and respected by locals and are hard to find outside of Japan.
Many Japanese cities are created with the environment in mind. While volunteering in Japan, you could help preserve natural open spaces or improve systems for recycling and conservation. In terms of elderly care, Japan has been voted one of the easiest countries to retire in, and volunteers can work one-on-one with individuals in need of assistance. In the world of history, volunteering in Japan includes helping to preserve old buildings, as the country races toward modernization.
If your interests lie elsewhere there are volunteer placements in Japan in over 20 industries, from agriculture to education and childcare. You could work on an organic farm, advise small businesses on project development, or support international tourism projects.
Costs & Affordability
As a developed country, Japan is one of the most expensive destinations to volunteer in Asia. The exchange rate between the U.S. dollar and the Japanese Yen has favored the dollar for the past thirty years, but the cost of living is still very high. Most prices for food, clothing, and social activities are comparable to living in large U.S. capital cities, like New York or Washington D.C. While there might be some slight deviations in prices between cities—with places like Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka being a bit more expensive—most destinations in Japan will be consistent.
That being said, the quality of products made in Japan is hard to beat. With a centuries old belief in empathetic manufacturing—designing products with the customers’ needs in mind—many Japanese made goods cost a bit more than those sold in the U.S., but the quality is usually much greater.
Regardless of where you volunteer in Japan, there is no shortage of shopping opportunities. The entire country is connected by trains and subways, most of which have large underground shopping centers attached to the stations. You can find five star meals in these tunnels as well as high quality merchandise. This will be the cheapest place to shop and the one of the best ways to mingle with locals.
Accommodation & Visas
The types of accommodations available for those who choose to volunteer abroad in Japan are just as varied as the placement opportunities. Some volunteers may be placed in apartments or hotels by program providers, while many others will reside in homestays. Any option will provide a unique cultural experience. Staying in an apartment will no doubt leave you impressed by the architecture and lavish lifestyles of living in Japan.
Living with a host family will give you an immersive experience in the language, food, and daily routines of life in Japan. While apartments and homestays are available in most locations across the country, some rural project providers also offer camping accommodation options—especially for the more environmentally focused projects.
Depending on where you volunteer in Japan, and the length of your program, you may be working and volunteering with a group of volunteers. While some individual accommodations do exist, a lot of projects are group oriented, so you may be living with your fellow international volunteers.
Visas are not required for volunteer programs in Japan that last less than 90 days. If you plan on volunteering abroad in Japan for more than 90 days, your program provider can help you determine if you need a tourist, business, or visitor visa. The application process for a Japanese visa is very simple, requiring just a passport, application, and invitation paperwork from your host organization. Depending on your port of entry, immigration could be a time consuming process however. Foreigners may be asked a lot of questions and are often fingerprinted and photographed upon arrival.
Benefits & Challenges
High Level of Modernization. Japan is a world power, with modern facilities and stable infrastructure, making it a safe destination to volunteer abroad. Understanding Eastern culture is very advantageous in today’s global economy and volunteering in Japan is a great way to work closely with some significant cultural differences and mannerisms.
Distinct Cultural Differences. One of the challenges foreigners face when visiting Japan is connecting with locals. While Japanese people are welcoming to foreigners, they are usually not very accepting of outsiders into close social circles. This can be frustrating, but as you learn to understand the thought processes behind it, you’ll learn to appreciate the Japanese view of relationships.