I recently changed jobs and negotiated a two week gap before my start date. I began looking for volunteer projects with less than two weeks to go before the start date, so I was pleasantly surprised when VFP staff were able to place me in my second choice project.
VFP works with NICE, a Japanese organization which coordinates work camp programs throughout the country. There were a few rough patches in communication between the two organizations (especially around transportation to the camp), but it all worked out in the end.
The NICE work camp was in Kirikiri town, a small fishing village on the northeast coast which was ravaged by the 2011 tsunami. The project involved going into the forest each day to haul cut timber back to the camp and then chop it up for firewood. It sounds like hard work, and it absolutely was. That being said, I had the opportunity to learn about industrial forestry hands on in a way that I never could have experienced in the US. We used a combination of high-tech tools (chainsaws, high-tension cable winches, tractors) and traditional hand tools to move the logs.
Here's a sample of a day at the workcamp:
7am - Wake up, get dressed, cook breakfast, and eat.
8am - Get in the truck and drive to the forest.
8:30-12:30 - Haul wood out of the forest.
12:30-1:00p - Cook and eat lunch (this was a problem, not enough time!)
1:00p-5:30p - Either chop up the wood, or back to the forest for more hauling
5:30p-9:00 - Various chores including cooking, cleaning, tending the bath (wood water heater!), maintaining gear.
9:00p-midnight - Eat dinner and drink with staff and volunteers (this was always a blast).
As you can see, a lot of work, and a lot of cooking actually. Cooking was rather stressful because although the NICE volunteers brought the food, it was mostly traditional Japanese ingredients. Combined with the short amount of time available for preparing breakfast and lunch, it made meal times very stressful for me.
The best part of the experience was getting to work so closely with the Japanese staff and volunteers. There were about 12 volunteers at the camp, and only two of us were foreigners. Working hard together allowed us to form bonds very quickly, which has always been impossible for me to do on previous trips. The one criticism I would give here was that the language requirements listed on the VFP site did not match the reality at the camp. The site said that both English and Japanese were spoken at the work site. In reality, the staff and volunteers spoke barely any English. This was fine for me (I speak conversation Japanese), but it was a real problem for the other foreign volunteer who I ended up translating for most of the time. The language barrier actually posed a safety problem since the instructions were mostly given in Japanese. You wouldn't want someone to misunderstand instructions on how to use a chainsaw!
Another criticism would be that the equipment recommended on the site didn't match the requirements when I arrived at the work camp. For example, the website said that I should bring steel-toed work boots, but when I got there the Japanese staff actually bought me a pair of what looked like rain boots with a sticky sole (much more effective when leaping from log to log). The good news was that the staff and other volunteers were incredibly generous in getting me the stuff I needed, but I would have preferred to be better prepared.