A guide to volunteering, philanthropy and social impact opportunities in Japan.
Whether you?re living in or travelling through Japan, there are plenty of opportunities to give back to the community and connect with like-minded people around social and environmental issues. Below is a list of volunteer opportunities, fundraising challenges and events where you can get involved ? even if you don?t speak Japanese.
From animal welfare to organic farming, here?s a list of volunteer opportunities for non-Japanese speakers in Japan.
1. Second Harvest Japan
Established in 2002, Second Harvest Japan (2HJ) is the country?s first nationwide food bank. The organisation collects surplus food and provides it directly to those in need. Volunteers can support their work in a number of ways, including preparing and distributing meals (see here).
2. HandsOn Tokyo
HandsOn Tokyo is a nonprofit that matches volunteers with charity events and opportunities to support marginalised children, elderly citizens and other groups in need. Volunteers can pick and choose which activities to take part in by signing up via the organisation?s calendar.
3. Mirai No Mori
Mirai no Mori is a nonprofit that ?creates life-changing outdoor programs for abused, neglected, and orphaned youths in Japan, supporting their growth into happy and successful young adults?. They are looking for volunteers to support their children?s camps, fundraising events and office work.
4. Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL)
TELL is a nonprofit dedicated to providing effective support and counselling services to Japan?s international community and helping to address mental health care needs, including suicide prevention. The organisation is seeking volunteers to support its LifeLine, fundraising efforts, and office work.
5. Place To Grow
Place To Grow supports the revitalization of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture; a town devastated by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. PTG provides a space for those affected by the tragedy and connects volunteers with survivors. Find out more here.
6. Run For The Cure
Run For The Cure Japan?s mission is ?to eradicate breast cancer in Japan as a life-threatening disease through education, timely screening, and treatment?. The organisation is looking for volunteers to help with fundraising events, such as the Tokyo Run, Casino Night, and Pink Beauty Party.
7. Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC)
JVC aims to build peaceful and sustainable societies by running agriculture, education, peacebuilding and disaster relief projects in countries including Cambodia, South Africa and Japan. Volunteers can assist with office work, events and other projects (see here).
Ashinaga provides educational and psychological support to orphaned children worldwide. The organisation is looking for volunteers to assist with fundraising, events and other projects, including their Tsudoi summer camps.
9. Peace Boat
Established in 1983, Peace Boat promotes peace, human rights, and sustainability. The organisation operates around-the-world, educational voyages on a passenger vessel several times a year. The NGO recruits volunteer interpreters and language teachers, as well as interns in their Tokyo office (see here). The organisation also coordinates disaster relief opportunities for non-Japanese speakers in some post-disaster situations.
10. Refugees International Japan (RIJ)
RIJ is a nonprofit that funds projects for people displaced by conflict around the world. The organisation supports projects that provide opportunities for people to lead independent lives and is seeking volunteers to organise and run fundraising activities to support these initiatives.
11. WWOOF Japan
WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) is ?a movement linking visitors with organic farmers and growers to promote cultural and educational experiences based on trust and non-monetary exchange?. There are over 400 hosts nationwide looking for help on their organic farms!
12. Beach & City Clean-ups
Several organisations run clean-ups for both English and Japanese speakers. For example, see SEGO Initiative (Fujisawa Beach Cleaning Project) and Tokyo River Friends (Edogawa, Tokyo). Also, Social Innovation Japan organises ?Plogging? events (jogging and picking up rubbish) in Tokyo.
13. Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK)
ARK is a nonprofit ?forming a network of people who love animals, believe in sharing their lives with them, and work actively to rescue them from suffering?. There are opportunities to volunteer in Tokyo and Osaka.
NICE (Never-ending International WorkCamps Exchange) was founded in 2002 to ?rise to the challenge of meeting the ever-increasing needs from communities for targeted projects and motivated volunteers?. The group organises volunteer experiences to support local initiatives, from conservation to education, around the country. Find their updated list of projects here.
15. Chokkura Home Stay
NPO Chokkura Home Stay provides homestays for Japanese children who are not able to go abroad for financial reasons. The organisation is looking for foreign families living in Japan who are willing to open up their homes to Japanese youngsters and provide them with a unique homestay experience.
From running 42 kilometres to racing around Tokyo?s iconic Yamanote Line, here are 6 opportunities where you can challenge yourself for a worthy cause.
1. Tokyo Yamathon
The Yamathon is an annual fundraising challenge held in May in which teams of 3?4 compete to walk the length of Tokyo?s famous Yamanote Line.
2. Run For The Cure ? Tokyo Run
Run for The Cure/Walk for Life, held in November, raises funds for the foundation?s community outreach programs and promotes breast cancer awareness in Japan. The event consists of a 5km & 10km Run and 3km Walk.
3. Executive Fight Night
Executive Fight Night gives courageous Tokyo executives the opportunity to fight and help raise money for charity in a Vegas-style Fight Night.
4. Knights In White Lycra (KIWL)
KIWL is an international group in Japan who ?get fit & give back? through sport & leisure. The group organises cycling, walking, running, futsal, golf, pub quizzes and social nights to raise money for charity.
5. TELL Tower Climb
The TELL Tower Climb is a fundraising challenge to walk or run up the iconic Tokyo Tower, held around September 10th ? World Suicide Prevention Day.
6. Tokyo Marathon
One of the premier marathons in the world, the Tokyo Marathon is a great opportunity to fundraise for a worthy cause. In 2019, runners raised over 585 million yen.
Social and Environmental Events
Here?s a sample list (there are a lot more!) of events and gatherings for those interested in social and environmental action in Japan.
1. Tokyo Rainbow Pride Parade
Tokyo Rainbow Pride (TRP) is a celebration of Japan?s LGBTQ community, held in late April. Anyone can enjoy the parades and events held over two days in the capital, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
2. Earth Day
Tokyo joins the world in celebrating Earth Day with an event in Yoyogi Park in April every year. The festival is a gathering of environmental groups, restaurants, businesses and activists, and features free art, music & festivities.
3. Women?s March Tokyo
Women?s March Tokyo takes place on 8th March, International Women?s Day. The march celebrates the successes of women and demands action for a more equal society.
4. Fridays for Future
Inspired by climate activist Greta Thunberg, Fridays for Future Japan gathers young people to call for urgent action on climate change on a regular basis. Also, see Citizens for Climate Japan for similar information in English.
5. Social Innovation Japan
Social Innovation Japan ? a platform for social action ? organises regular events and programs focusing on social/environmental issues in Tokyo.
*Bonus: The Foreign Volunteers Japan Facebook Group is a great resource for finding up-to-date opportunities, events and news.
For more on social and environmental issues in Japan, see:
– 7 Surprising Facts About Plastic in Japan- 5 social businesses in Japan changing the way we ?do good?- Sanpo Yoshi: the Japanese business principle of success through responsibility