Tokyo is sometimes referred to as the city that moves at a thousand miles per hour and leaves everybody else behind. A place where fashion trends fade in and out as fast as technology evolves hourly, life in Tokyo operates like “a well-oiled clip.” Imagine New York City born in the far east. Tokyo is one of the three economic “command centers” of the world. Though behind the clockwork engine, reveals Tokyo’s cultural core. Like the British Royal family, the imperial family is a well-established institution, and elements of Shinto and Confucianism are extremely visible in the Japanese people. Between the old Japan and the new, Tokyo is a shining reflection of Japanese culture through time.
There are a variety of volunteer opportunities in the city. Still recovering from the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami, Japan developed a greater need for volunteers for disaster relief. Opportunities generally revolve around working with underprivileged children. The city is not in dire need of any sort of help, however if an aspiring volunteer were to look hard enough, he or she could find a variety of opportunities in children’s home, infant homes, senior homes, teaching sports at youth centers, and environmental conservation. Teaching English is also a common activity among Westerners.
Infant and Childcare
Infants who have been abandoned in orphanages are being fed and cared for, however they are still in danger of a lack of emotional support and one-on-one interaction. Japanese experts have developed a technique for infant massages, that can help give the emotional support that these infants need. Volunteers will be expected to perform general childcare, and will be trained on how to perform these massages. These centers expect reliability. A minimum commitment of 30-60 minutes at least once of week for 3 months is expected, however the more hours you put in the better.
Volunteers have the opportunities to foster underprivileged children in orphanages. They will be expected to perform general childcare and do activities with the children as well as provide emotional support.
There are a variety of opportunities for those interested in healthcare including infant, children, senior, and mental patient care. Volunteer duties will range from general maintenance of facilities to nursing care, and doing activities such as arts and crafts with the patients.
Planning Your Trip
Know Before You Go: Tokyo isn’t cheap, and although the city is so modern, much of it operates as a cash economy. Never assume that you can just pay with a credit card. Many places like large hotels and chains will accept credit card, but other vendors will not. It is generally safe to carry it around with you.
How to Save Money While Volunteering: Plan ahead! The average cost per day of living in Japan as a visitor (meals, transportation, and general expenses non-inclusive of lodging) may be around $60-$100 US Dollars or 5000-8000 Yen - the most expensive city for expats. Tips include: traveling during off seasons, getting a rail pass, and buy food from supermarkets and convenience stores.
Best Places to Volunteer: Volunteers interested in professional business experience, or even interning, in Tokyo should check out Hibiya, known as the business and spiritual center of Tokyo. Marunouchi, an older and more traditional business neighborhood, is also good for professionally-minded volunteers. Ueno and Asakusa are great places to experience cultural and traditional aspects of Tokyo - from street markets to temples to museums.
Questions to Ask: How many people will I be working with? What is an average working day? What amenities are available? Which nearby sites should I visit?
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Tokyo
Radiation Concerns: After the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, both Japanese and United States government officials have taken precautions for public health, however there are still concerns about radiation exposure. A person exposed to radiation is not necessarily contaminated (radiation getting inside the body). If you are exposed you can take precautions by removing and changing clothing, and gently washing the hands face and hair. Avoid scrubbing your skin which can irritate it and allow the radiation to more easily enter your body. Click here for the latest status report on radiation concerns.
Vaccines: There are no special immunizations or medications necessary for most trips. Vaccination for “Japanese encephalitis” is recommended for travelers staying longer than a month or who will be traveling to rural areas. The vaccine is given as a series of three injections so plan at least a month, or a bare minimum of two weeks in advance. It is also recommended that you travel with long sleeves, pants hats and shoes when traveling in rural or forested areas for insect and tick protection.
TIP: Register yourself on the U.S. State Department’s Smart Traveller Enrollment Program (STEP). You will receive updates from the State Department about important news in about your country, and it will be easier to assist you if you lose your passport, or contact your family in case of an emergency.