Moving to and living in a new country can be a truly daunting experience. It can be stressful, it can be exhausting, and it can be lonely. Many people struggle with ways to overcome the many barriers to becoming part of their new society. I know I did. One excellent way to help with this is to volunteer.
Not only will volunteering help you experience the culture on an intimate basis, but you’ll also get a chance to meet a huge variety of people and make meaningful connections that can help you get past many of the issues that plague newcomers to Japan. At the same time, you’ll be offering support to those in need, which is always a good thing.
There are all kinds of opportunities available, even if you don’t speak much Japanese. You can be part of big national organizations, or small local ones. You can work with children, animals, the elderly, the homeless… The varieties are endless! Here are a few ideas to get you started, as well as some resources to keep you looking.
My own experience with service in Japan is all very local. My neighborhood association sponsors many events and programs that residents can pitch in on. There are beach clean-ups, park maintenance, children’s events and more. You can find out about local public events like these on your district or neighborhood website, or even better: ask your neighbors!
To give you an idea of how this works, my neighborhood has a yearly beach clean-up in July, just before Marine Day (usually mid-July. It’s July 15th this year, 2019). The information is posted at the local community centers, as well as on the city website, and is circulated in the neighborhood circular (回覧板 kairanban). Participation is free, of course, and everyone gathers at the appointed time near the beach. The organizers hand out trash bags and partition people into groups, then every goes off to pick up trash along the beach. The trash is then brought to a central location and separated, then all the participants receive drinks in thanks. All of this is volunteer work: you can be a picker, or a separator, or both. The event lasts all morning, and brings together school groups, local businesses, and residents. People talk and laugh while they clean, and in the end there’s a real sense of local responsibility for the neighborhood and environment.
My participation has really helped me know my neighbors better, and I know that people are much warmer to me now that they’ve seen me join in the hard work. Local volunteering has undoubtedly improved my standing and relationships with my neighborhood, and it didn’t take much time, or language skills, to do. If you can find a similar opportunity, I highly recommend it both for your own benefit, and the good of your neighborhood.
There are, of course, national and international volunteer organizations everywhere in Japan. Here are a few I’ve heard of as being particularly interesting.
Smile Kids Japan
Offical website: www.smilekidsjapan.org (Directs to Facebook)
This organization connects volunteers with orphanages and other child welfare centers to help bring a bit of warmth to children in need through mentorship and education. Their webpage is in English, and they are oriented toward cultural diversity.
If you are at all interested in helping children, this is a great opportunity. And I know from experience that there is no better way to learn about Japan and its culture than through interacting with children who are also still learning it themselves.
Offical website: www.heart-tokushima.com
This is a Tokushima-based animal rescue organization. They are dedicated to helping find homes for, and reducing the occurrence of, abandoned animals in Tokushima. Volunteering with animal rescue and animal shelters can be very difficult; many of the animals are very sick, and some require euthanasia, but it can also be heartwarming and it’s work that needs doing.
Hands On Tokyo
Offical website: www.handsontokyo.org
This organization is a general multilingual volunteer organization whose mission is to bring foreign nationals wanting to volunteer together with local groups needing help. In other words, it’s perfect for Tokyo area people like you!
Find Your Own Opportunities
As you can see, there are any number of places and ways to use your time for the benefit of others, and it’s an excellent way to connect with local society. If the ideas above don’t really strike you, or your location isn’t served, then a little googling should help you find more suitable activities. And, of course, talking to your coworkers, neighbors, or locals is always a great choice!