9 Tokyo-Based Organizations You Can Volunteer For

Make the most of your free time by contributing to your community

By Ruxandra Florea
January 17, 2018
Community Support, Lifestyle

From food distribution, mental health support and event planning, here is Savvy’s guide to nine of the best-known philanthropic organizations in Tokyo which you can support through volunteering — even if you haven’t mastered the Japanese language perfectly yet.

So you’ve lived in Japan for some time now and have come to love the country that much that you feel it’s time to pay back. Or you’ve noticed some loopholes in the society that you feel there’s still much work needed on and you’ve promised yourself that this will be the year to put your knowledge and experience into practice and finally make a change. Volunteering is a great way to help your community and, yes, there are a number of organizations in Japan that need your help. Below is a list of nine Tokyo-based organizations which are more than pleased to welcome non-Japanese volunteers (even if they lack perfect Japanese) to assist their causes. If you are studying, working or living in Tokyo, temporary or long term, here is your chance to get involved!

1. TELL (Tokyo English Life Line)


TELL is a not-for-profit organization with over 40 years of experience of providing free English counseling services and support for mental healthcare and suicide prevention to Japan’s international community. Last year, the organization announced that it will launch a 24-hour lifeline and held its first Tokyo Climb event to help raise funds for these purposes. Having a non-stop lifeline support calls for a major increase in volunteers and counselors, so this is perhaps the time when the organization needs you the most. TELL is always looking for dedicated individuals to support its lifeline, work on special projects, fundraising events and office work. Becoming a lifeline volunteer requires a special nine-week online training.

Focus: Suicide awareness and prevention, anti-bullying, child protection, company stress check
How can you help? Lifeline support, fundraising events, office work
How to start? Fill out this volunteer application form

2. HandsOn Tokyo

HandsOn Tokyo is a non-profit organization which brings foreign and local residents together to work on various charity events and social issues that benefit special needs children, elderly citizens and any other social groups in need of support. If you’re an expat with a bit of a free time, you can volunteer for a number of activities, including sport events, onigiri making, art projects, and English classes (to name just a few) as ways of engaging with the community. What’s great about this organization is that it allows volunteers to sign up online for specific projects and choose what activities they wish to participate in — in other words, it makes volunteering more easily accessible and stress-free.

Focus: Activities with special needs children, visits to children’s institutions, support for single mothers, volunteering at care facilities for the elderly, disaster relief and more.
How can you help? By participating in their events
How to start? Register as a volunteer on their official website

3. Run for the Cure

Run for the Cure is an NPO with a mission to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease in Japan through promoting timely screening, treatment and educational activities. The organization also publishes PiNK, the currently only magazine in Japan dedicated to breast cancer. Run for the Cure holds three annual public events to raise funds for the cause, namely the Pink Ball (March), Casino Night (September) and Run for the Cure/Walk for Life in (December). Volunteers are especially needed for these events. In addition to support with fundraising activities, volunteers can also assist with translation and editing for their magazine, and help develop new ideas for future projects. Run for the Cure also offers internship opportunities.

Focus: Breast cancer awareness activities, fundraising events and outreach programs
How can you help? Volunteer for fundraising activities (help with setup, registration, usher, auction, ticket and product sales, artist assistance, etc.), PiNK magazine article translation, proofreading, editing. Certified nurses are also needed for the Run for the Cure event.
How to start? Fill out the volunteer application form on the official website

4. Second Harvest

Second Harvest is among the best known Japan-based organizations whose main activities involve collecting food donations from companies, manufacturers, farmers and individuals with the purpose of distributing it to people living in shelters, orphanages, elderly support institutions and areas stricken by natural disasters. The organization is always looking for volunteers and there are a number of ways to help out: from food preparation and distribution to donation pick-ups and even easy office work.

Focus: Food distribution to welfare agencies, orphanages, women’s shelters, homeless people
How can you help? Meal preparation and serving, delivery, pantry packing, office work
How to start? Fill out the volunteer registration form on their official website

5. Shine On! Kids

Shine On! Kids is an organization dedicated to supporting families with children battling cancer and other serious illnesses in Japan. This non-profit is aiming to create a complete patient support system in Japan by providing physical and emotional support for the affected children and their families. It is also the first organization in Japan to implement facility dogs trained to provide love and companionship to hospitalized children. Volunteers are always needed for their fundraising activities throughout the year, such as the live auction Extravaganza event and other programs like Team Beads of Courage, through which volunteers can directly support kids undergoing cancer treatment in hospital.

Focus: Support children with cancer and other severe diseases
How can you help? Participate in their events, become member of Team Beads of Courage, support the Facility Dog program, sponsor an event
How to start? Send direct email through their website

6. Japan International Volunteer Center (JVC)

JVC runs various projects in agriculture, children’s education, peace-building and emergency relief. Their missions are conducted both domestically, focusing on the areas stricken by the Great East Japan Earthquake, and internationally, with activities in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and other countries. Volunteers can assist with a variety of tasks in their office, such as translations, maintenance of the official website and also support events open to the public, such as charity concerts and lectures.

Focus: Peacebuilding, emergency relief, education, water provision, etc.
How can you help? Office work (cutting out stamps, sorting through postcards, process the shipping and handling of magazines), data input, translation
How to start? There is an orientation session conducted in Japanese for any Japanese/Japanese-speaking volunteers; however, foreign/English-speaking volunteers can send any inquiries through JVC’s contact page or email them directly at info@ngo-jvc.net.

7. Lighthouse

Lighthouse: Center for Human Trafficking Victims (formerly Polaris Project Japan) provides counselling services to victims of sex trafficking in Japan and education to law enforcement and government officials that enables them to recognize, prevent and tackle sex trafficking cases. The organization periodically creates campaigns and seminars to encourage awareness of the gravity of the not-so-often-spoken topic of sex trafficking in this country. Their best known campaign is the publishing of manga booklets based on real-life reports of sexual victimization of teenagers in Japan. Besides donations, Lighthouse also accepts volunteers and interns during specific times in the year. More information about such opportunities can be found on their website.

Focus: Battling sex trafficking in Japan, government lobbying, building awareness
How can you help? Participate in campaigns, make donations
How to start? Check the official website and Facebook page periodically for updates regarding call for volunteers

8. Living Dreams

Living Dreams is a non-profit organization founded in 2006 which provides the means and technological education to children in welfare facilities to help them realize their dreams for the future. Their main activities include the Digital Native Program, which aims to accustom children with technology, and the annual Christmas Wish Program, which has volunteers and staff visit and spend time with children living in welfare facilities during Christmas. The program currently involves over 300 participants from the local community and over 400 orphans. In addition to regular donations, the organization is always looking for volunteers who can dedicate their time to put a smile on children’s faces by visiting them at institutions and communicating with them — especially around Christmas.

Focus: Supporting children in orphanages through technical education and community involvement.
How can you help? Participate in their programs, provide training in an area of need to the children and staff, visiting children in welfare facilities, etc.
How to start? Contact them directly through their website

9. Tokyo 2020

The Tokyo Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games is in need of over 90,000 volunteers for the upcoming Tokyo 2020 Games. The volunteers will fulfill a wide variety of roles such as serve as guides at venues, help with doping control, transportation, registration, language services, logistic support and many more. People of all ages, gender and nationalities are invited to apply as volunteers. For more information about the application process for potential volunteers, see here.

Focus: Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games 2020
How can you help? Services for spectators, event operations support, media support, guidance at venues, doping control, language service, logistics support, etc.
How to start? Fill out the application form online provided by the official website or send an application by email.

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