Connecting with Your Community in Japan Through Volunteer Work

If you have a valid visa to live in Japan, you’re considered a resident by the government. But psychologically, that shift in mindset might not happen so readily. Even for those who have lived in Japan for years, the act of living here can still seem more temporary than permanent. Both are very real ends of the immigration spectrum. Sometimes, we can feel more like guests than residents (and vice versa).

That’s not to say that feeling like a resident should be a goal of living in Japan for everyone. I have plenty of ex-pat friends who love living in Japan with the future goal of moving to another country or moving back to their home country. Everyone will have a different opinion on the matter. This article isn’t meant to convince people to choose one mindset or the other; it’s just to shed a little light on one part of choosing to live your life in another country.

Regarding my journey through the trials and tribulations (I’m being overly dramatic here, I know) of adjusting to starting a new life in Japan, I only saw myself as more of a resident after getting back in the habit of donating blood. It’s really just a change in mindset, but this has helped me adopt a more “long-term” perspective in regards to residing in Japan. It also wasn’t a realization that immediately popped into my mind, I had to think about the past couple of years and find the turning point at which I started to consider this country a new home for me.

That being said, I never really thought that volunteering and donating blood back in America “connected” me more to my environment and community. They weren’t obligations, but just as a resident in my community I wanted to do what little I could do help out. The intention wasn’t to feel connected to the community. I guess that’s why it took a few years of living in Japan before I was at a place mentally to start thinking about community service.

Honestly, my life hasn’t changed since visiting the Red Cross donation centers here. I still have to update my visa status with the Immigration Bureau, I still sometimes receive English menus at restaurants, and I am still denied the opportunity to rent some apartments because I’m a foreigner. But those are just some of the minor negatives that go hand-in-hand with the foreign resident experience in Japan.

So if this psychological connection to one’s place of residence doesn’t result in any tangible benefits, what’s the point? That’s an extremely valid question and one that you have to ask and answer for yourself. For me,  I feel that getting this information out there can help those also feeling “one-foot-in and one-foot-out” of living in Japan. It’s also information for those looking to move to Japan and wanting to know what challenges foreign residents in Japan face.

The Red Cross donation centers aren’t equipped with English support, so you’ll need a decent grasp of Japanese to get through paperwork (and also just in case any medical emergencies occur). Donating blood is just my take on this, and I know that not everyone can donate blood for a variety of factors. But there are other ways to start making Japan seem more like home, if you’re willing to give it a shot. If you’re staying in Japan for a gap year or for a working holiday, then perhaps this isn’t how you want to spend your limited time in Japan, which is completely understandable. But for those who are interested, I’ve found a few volunteering opportunities around Tokyo which don’t require any Japanese language. These are listed at the end of this article.

I recommend seeking out volunteer activities for ex-pats living in Japan who want to adjust their mindset from visitor to resident. Not that visitors can’t participate in volunteer activities. A number of international volunteers came to Japan’s aid after the 3/11 disaster for example. But, it’s a great way to strengthen your ties with your community. Within Tokyo, there are opportunities for those with limited Japanese language ability, but you will have your work cut out for you if you live in rural Japan.

Of course, you shouldn’t feel pressured to volunteer if you’re not in a position to do so comfortably. But, if you are interested in finding out more about volunteering opportunities in Tokyo, take a look at these links. Those who aren’t confident in their Japanese language ability can find various ways to volunteer their time at the following organizations.

Volunteer Opportunities

Second Harvest is a food bank that helps deliver food to those in need. Donations come from retailers, farmers, and individuals. Volunteers can help with packing food, delivering food, and even working in the office for data entry.

This website is a directory of a variety of volunteer activities in the Tokyo area.

This non profit organization offers assistance activities in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Tohoku, Kumamoto and Jordan (for Syrian Refugees).

A non-profit organization that provides counseling services in English for those living in Japan.

You Me We works with orphanages in the Tokyo area, providing children with opportunities to develop into independent young adults.

Sometimes changing up your routine can create more positive mindset. Having this knowledge can make it easier to adjust to a long-term perspective as a foreign resident in Japan. Photo: iStock stock photography

I’d be interested in hearing from you all if you have experience with volunteering in Japan. Did you seek out volunteer activities after a few years here? Did you feel more connected to your community after engaging in volunteer activities? Or do you have another suggestion for others who are on the fence about adopting a more long-term mindset about living in Japan?

Lead photo: iStock stock photography