Free (or Cheap) Volunteer Work in Japan
The language barrier restricts the number of opportunities Japan offers to international volunteers but if you are looking to cut expenses in an expensive country to visit, try asking at hostels where work exchanges are not uncommon. Otherwise we recommend using the help exchange networks to find a small project to support.
Grassroots Volunteering in Japan
The organisations listed below have either got in touch with us to add their details to this or another of our websites, or we otherwise have reason to believe they are actively looking for international volunteers and charge reasonable or no fees to join in, live and work with them:
Strictly speaking Peace Boat isn’t a Japan based volunteer gig. Instead it is a Japan based international non profit NGO that, through a chartered passenger ship travelling the world on peace voyages, works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment. For each voyage, Peace Boat recruits volunteer interpreters and language teachers to support its programmes onboard. These are highly sought after positions and applicants need to be a highly advanced speaker of English with at least 18 months of relevant full time English language teaching experience. Check their website for application and voyage dates.
Where: At sea.
Accommodation & Costs: On the boat.
Hostel Work Exchanges
Two sides of the same coin, the J-Hoppers and Hana Hostels brands are known to take on guests to stay for free by volunteering for a few hours a day. One or the other can be found in most of Japan’s major cities. A working holiday visa or a student visa is required. We also had Khaosan Hostels down as offering work exchanges in their Tokyo, Kyoto, Beppu City and Fukuoka hostels, but more recently they say to foreign nationals that all positions require a high level of Japanese fluency – though this may only apply to paid jobs.
Other Opportunities to Volunteer in Japan
Hands On Tokyo (see Volunteer Resources below) sometimes take on volunteer leaders to coordinate and lead their projects. Leaders must have some previous experience with their activities and speak conversational Japanese and/or conversational English. Some internship positions for non Japanese speakers are available with Refugees in Japan.
CRASH Japan is a disaster relief organisation based in Tokyo that mobilises Christian volunteers to work with churches and other local ministries. Currently much of their efforts are going towards continued response to the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster that began on March 11, 2011. CRASH place volunteers in response to the requests and needs of partner organisations and local churches in the disaster area.
Help Exchange Networks in Japan
More Volunteering in Japan Resources
Hands On Tokyo – Serves as a bilingual volunteer portal to connect individuals and groups to meaningful volunteer service opportunities in the Tokyo and Tohoku region.
Best Living Japan – A list of Japanese charities where foreigners can get involved.
Plaza Homes – This real estate listings website has a page on where to volunteer in Tokyo.
Other Ways to Travel or Stay for Free in Japan
Stay for free in return for caring for local residents’ homes or pets. Join Trusted Housesitters to live rent free as a house sitter (Americans may prefer this link). You can also get a free Airbnb credit from us here.
WWOOFing a Japanese Farm – The WWOOF network provides Mike with a free room and board in an expensive country.
Solo Travel Options: WWOOFing in Japan – Sean volunteered on an organic farm in the coastal village of Uchinoura, on the south island of Kyushu.
How can I GET on the Peace Boat? – Chance Alberg, an EPIK teacher in South Korea, answers readers’ questions on applying to volunteer on Peace Boat, a Japan based international NGO that carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship travelling the world on peace voyages.
My (Mostly Bad) Experiences Wwoofing In Japan Across 3 Farms For 6 Weeks – A Reddit poster details their time in what they describe as ‘WWOOFer slave camps.’
* not all these volunteer experiences are with grassroots NGOs or low cost organisations
Image courtesy Cluster Munition Coalition