A lot of the disaster was in Ofunato and Rikuzentakata, Japan. In these two cities alone.An estimated 2,400 people died and 7,200 houses were destroyed.
What does it cost?
You will normally have to get yourself to the project & country, and in return they (the company you go with) provides shelter, food (3 meals a day normally), and a rewarding and unique volunteer opportunity.
The average cost to house and feed a single person while on a project is $15 US a day.
How do I sign up?
To apply go to your desired company’s website there you will find a posted online application (normally). Once you submit an application, they will contact you if they are able to accommodate you on the project.
Volunteers will normally be required to sign a volunteer waiver in order to participate.
What can you expect?
All organizations have different times and durations for their projects. You can expect to spend at least 2 weeks to 2 years. While there you will be helping with: debris removal and home rehabilitation, so that families can return home. This is dirty and physical work and volunteers may be outside for most of the day. As the needs of the community develop and if we (the workers) are able to effectively fill gaps and complement the government’s efforts, the organizations may expand into other types of work and longer time frames.
What if I forget stuff?
Please carefully consider your needs and pack accordingly. Stores and shops are starting to reopen, but it’s a lot less hassle for you if you bring it with you. (there is a check list at the bottom of the post)
How do I get money in Japan?
Prices here are comparable to or higher than most other developed countries. Plan your spending money accordingly. Accommodation generally runs between US$100 and US$150 and a large percentage of imported goods means that staple items are sometimes more expensive than in the US.
Though there are exchange booths at the airport in Tokyo, exchanging money can be difficult even in larger cities. It is recommend that volunteers exchange money either before departing for Japan or immediately upon arrival at the airport. ATMs are common throughout Japan and can be used with most internationally accepted debit cards. Check with your local bank to make sure that they will allow you to withdraw from here and bring some extra cash in case of emergency even if you plan to take out yen once you arrive.
US$1 ≈ ¥84.8 (it changes daily please checkHow do I get there?
You are generally expected to pay for your way INTO Japan and OUT of Japan. Expenses with in Japan may vary depending on your organization. ((If you find one that pays for your trip to and from as well please let me know, I know lot of us can’t go because of our lack of money for travel expenses))
Travelers from most western countries are eligible to receive a three to six month visa upon arrival at no cost. Please review the Japanese government’s visa information for more details on your eligibility and requirements.
What kind of accommodations can I expect?
Living accommodations are very basic. People maybe sharing one room of a former office building, tents, open air buildings, the lucky few may be able to get a house/trailer. A lucky few may also have a small kitchen with running water. MOST/ALL will have no centralized heat/air or hot water. Volunteers will more than likely be sleeping on the floor on tatamimats with kerosene/personal heaters. There may be a bathroom with toilets but they will rely on buckets/scoops for showers. Expect the sleep space & bathrooms to NOT be gender-separated. Internet and phone lines are unlikely as well. Most things will need to be supplied by you.
How do I call my mother (or send email)?
Your organization may have a unit that uses the mobile network to connect, but allows only limited access. You will more than likely have to supply your own mobile phone, The mobile network is generally restored to areas, but landlines are still down.
What will the weather be like?
The weather is cold but mostly sunny, with spring and the rainy season just on the horizon. It is recommend to bringing layers and a medium weight jacket for the daytime and warm clothes for nights. While it is expected to get warmer in the coming months, it will also get wetter so be sure to bring a rain jacket. Before you leave check the weather, know what you will be getting into. Tokyo is south of the disaster area so it will be warmer sooner than the more northern areas.
What is the food like?
Your organization my provide three meals a day to volunteers. Breakfast will be cereal/bread. Lunch will be served on the worksite. Dinner will be a hot prepared meal. The organization you pick may or may not be able to accommodate vegetarian diets/special needs, humor, and cultural understanding will see you through any awkward situations that come up. You may wish to bring some comfort food for a personal stash or to share with fellow volunteers.
Not comfortable with this set up?
It is NOT going to be pretty. This will be hard labor. Expect to get dirty and hurt and tired. There may be an organization that offers BETTER housing and food than others. If you find one please feel free to let us all know.
Will I be safe?
Japan is a well-prepared but disaster-prone country. Please read the information below and conduct your own research before making an informed decision about whether you are comfortable living and operating in this environment.
Fukushima Nuclear Plant
The earthquake and tsunami of March 11th caused serious damage to the reactor cooling systems of two adjacent nuclear plants in Fukushima Prefecture, located 250 km NNE of Tokyo
Most if not all organizations would not have a team on the ground in the disaster area and be inviting volunteers to join if they didn’t consider it safe, but I think you should be informed of the risks involved. Please do some research before deciding if you’re comfortable with the situation? Consult your country’s travel recommendations for Japan, learn more about the situation at Fukushima and get the facts about radiation exposure.
Earthquakes and Tsunamis
Japan is in one of the world’s most active earthquake zones. If you come to Japan, you should expect to experience aftershocks. Though most are small and short, some are large enough to shake things off the shelves, trigger tsunami warnings, and disrupt electricity service. Once you are here, you will be briefed on our emergency procedures for both the base and the worksites. ((I myself have been to Japan (many years ago) and experienced a major earth quake. It is a scary, exhilarating (if you have never been in one) experience. I was lucky the earth quake did not affect my stay. But it is something you can and should expect to happen.))
Working in a post-disaster environment and communal living situation is tiring and stressful. The work is full of its own rewards, but do not compromise your mental health or the safety and effectiveness of the work by ignoring your limits. All volunteers planning to stay for longer than one month usually are forced to take a break from camp the amount you are allotted and where you are allowed to go depends on your organization. But you are responsible for covering this expense, 99% of the time.
Some medical facilities are functioning in the disaster areas and very good medical care is available in neighboring cities. Volunteers should always try to work safely and carefully so that they can minimize their use of these resources, which are for the community. This is why volunteers have their own travel/medical insurance (a MUST).
Local businesses are starting to reopen; but come prepared with all the basics you will need during your volunteer
time so that you can get right to work.
Tent (some volunteers may be housed at a local campground; also in case of emergency having a tent is nice!)
Sleeping pad/air mattress (we DO NOT provide mattresses/bedding)
Sleeping bag or bedding – it can get pretty cold here at night
Personal work gear (work gloves/N95 dust masks/eye protection, etc)
Closed-toe trail/work boots and/or rubber boots
Shots (minimum – tetanus)
Personal first aid kit
Permanent Marker (for labeling your stuff – remember this is communal living)
Evacuation/Travel Insurance (for international travelers
Personal cash (¥) or ATM/credit card
2 work shirts and 2 pants
1 set of nice clothes (at least one set for evenings, meetings, community events, etc)
Lots of socks (these tend to disappear in a communal living environment)
Comfort food/rehydration supplement
Laptop/camera/USB memory stick (for sharing photos!)/power adaptors
SENSE OF HUMOR
Remember, PACK LIGHT, space is limited!
In the month since the tsunami electricity has been restored. Still, resources are limited in Japan and we would like to conserve power as much as possible. Electricity in Japan is 100-240V. The most common plugs are the 2 parallel flat pins without grounding. (Normal US appliances can run on this power supply without adaptors/converters. You can still us them if you want though) Please seriously consider your needs prior to packing anything requiring electricity.
It can be dirty, hard work, but that’s why many love it.
Do your research, know what you are getting into.
If you have any information you'd like tme to add please let me know. This is for anyone wantinig to volunteer in Japan or anywhere in the world. Please lets be strong together. And as always Show Your Heart