Volunteering in Japan

Volunteering in Japan

What to Know Before Volunteering in Japan

A lot of my friends who visited Japan share this feeling; mysterious and interesting. Despite the strong presence of westernization and technological advancement, you will see something different from any culture, both Western and Eastern. Once you start living there, not traveling as a tourist, that difference can be more vivid as well as some similarities can be shared strongly.

Living in a country, especially where the public language is not English, can be tough for anyone. Some things will be exciting and fascinating, like in anime, and some things can be a little too surprizing and challenging.

I hope the 10 tips below will be a start to help you go through some experience in Japan a little more easily and smoothly.


English speaking-environment in Japan is actually one of the places where your passion can shine. Even though English is being used more and more commonly every day, there is still huge room for improvement and expansion. The usage of English can be found in train stations, governmental buildings and even in some retails stores, but you will see a lot of texts in Japanese like in banks or hospitals, and on food menus, or licence plates. There are still many people in Japan who are having an exciting and comfortable life even though they don’t speak Japanese perfectly.


Generally speaking, if your stay is short-term (less than 3-9 months), you will probably only need a tourist visa. Depending on the nature of the volunteering activity you choose and how long you are going to stay, you might need to apply for work permit. Depending on where you are from, the Working Holiday Scheme can be an option as well. Double check your embassy’s website before you purchase your ticket!


The Japanese currency is the yen. The exchange rate seems quite similar wherever you go to exchange. People are getting familiar with payment by mobile App, debit cards, and digital-currency recently. Still, many people use cash. Two kinds of prices are shown; one with tax another without tax. And yes, tips are included!

Accommodation vs Airbnb?

If you are staying in Japan for a short-term, it would be easier for you to use hostels, Airbnb or even capsule hotels. It is uncommon to find an apartment for a short stay. You often need to sign a yearlong or 2-year-long contract when you try to rent an apartment. If you do rent a place, make sure you know where the garbage collection area is. You can just ask your neighbor or local governmental office as each community has different timings and rules for garbage collection.

Manners & Social Discourse

How uptight are these guys? It can seem like there are many rules to keep up with but if you are from overseas, they really do not expect you to follow their rules or even to speak Japanese well. By the way, it may actually seem rude sometimes when a Japanese person looks very surprized because you speak Japanese or they laugh when you ask questions about garbage rules. But please have good faith and trust that almost none of them really mean to offend or humiliate you. Please patiently ask them where to buy stuff, when the collection is getting done, or how to pay the bills.

Banks & Mobile Phones

Banks: If you are staying for a short-term, it could be better to stick with your home credit card or cash passport. The documentation process to open a bank account can be complicated. For example, they might require a mobile phone number that is issued in Japan, but in order to buy a mobile phone, you often need to sign a 2-year contract with a carrier. Let’s avoid that kind of difficulty if possible. International wire-transfer fees are also variable depending on each bank. It would be simpler and easier if you could keep your money in your home bank account.

Mobile Phones: Temporary SIM cards are becoming more common nowadays but if you can get some kind of an overseas deal in your country, that could save a lot of your time. The same thing goes for Wifi. You need a long-term contract to to install it in your home otherwise you could find rental mobile Wifi devices.

Food & Izakaya Bars

A lot of my friends were surprized and struggled a bit when they tried to find halal, vegetarian or vegan options. It is incredibly common for Japanese cuisines to use pork or fish based ingredients. You can still ask in restaurants or bars to customize it for you. I don’t think they will be offended. Just prepare some vocabs before you get there.
Izakaya bars are very common places for people in Japan to hang out at night. It is a combination of a casual dinner and pub.
People go there to have a drink, have a chat, date, or simply just to have food. In some places, they may be a service charge for appetizer provided (it is called Oto-oshi). Please don’t be surprized. It is a common thing and many people in Japan ask the staff about the service charge. You can do this as well if your budget is tight.

Clothing or How to Dress

People wear suits for job interviews and most jobs. When you are volunteering for non-formal events it may be safer to wear semi-formal unless specified. You can always ask the organizers as it is one of the frequently asked questions for Japanese people too

Transportation Maze?

As well as Google, many Japanese people use Yahoo for searching trains. There are many Apps to help guide you through the train maze in Japan. Trains do come in time. If you can avoid travelling from 7-9AM and 6-9PM, you can dodge the rush hours. If you are lost, please ask people around you or station staff. Generally, the last train leaves after 12 or 1AM, so be careful on that.
One thing to note is that Uber or Grab are very uncommon. Uber Eats is available though.

As for driving, Japanese drive on the left side. In some conditions, you can use a driver’s license that is issued outside Japan. But the international driver’s licence may be helpful.
You can check here for more details:

Religion & Safety

Most people I know in Japan are very relaxed in terms of religion. They do celebrate Christmas and go to shrines or temples the next day without distinguishing Buddhism and Shintoism. You can find many churches and now I see more and more people who wear hijabs as well. I do not think people will judge you negatively unless you really push your opinion on them, which is really unlikely to happen anyway.

The same kind of approach can be taken for safety. I see many people walking home alone at midnight. Just be watchful of where you go and your belongings. Try not to miss your last train regardless of what you are doing and where you are doing. Taxis in Tokyo can be expensive!


As I said in the beginning, it can be exciting but also scary to live in a new country, especially a country that is known for some weird stuff like samurai and toilets. How do you even find a job in the place like that!? Don’t worry, you are not alone. Many people often come back to Japan for many reasons. Once you start searching, you will be surprized how many options you can find. Contact them, talk to people who were in Japan, visit Japan and hopefully make some friends! Most importantly, please come back! Japan’s population is decreasing and we need people like you who care and support!

Movie List

I would like to end this long list with a list of 10 recommended movies and anime content to get some sense of living in Japan.

  • Tokyo. Sora

  • Like Father, Like Son

  • 5 Centimeters per Second

  • One Cut of the Dead

  • Departures

  • Black Rain

  • Shin Godzilla

  • Shoplifters

  • Lost in Translation

Latest posts by Nelson Santos (see all)

Join The Discussion


Compare listings