The road to a volunteer culture

Garden Grove, California

Regarding the May 18 editorial “Helping people help NPOs“: With more companies concerned about corporate social responsibility, this is a great time to start encouraging companies to cooperate with the operations of nongovernmental organizations. I just came back from Japan after living there through an exchange program (September 2011 to March 2012). I was eager to continue my studies and volunteer in Japan, and searched for volunteer organizations so that I could go to Sendai. I discovered that the volunteer culture in Japan is not as strong as it is in the United States. Many of my Japanese friends had never volunteered before.

I also found that the NGOs were not very gaijin-friendly. Because I speak Japanese, I didn’t have a problem being accepted as a volunteer, but after I was asked to recruit university friends to help, the organization I was working with refused to take non-Japanese-speaking international students who were very eager to volunteer, even though I offered to mediate and translate.

I experienced many unnecessary bureaucratic rules that hinder volunteers. During Christmas, I organized a toy drive for children in Miyagi Prefecture, with support from Japanese and international students of Keio, Waseda, and Japan Women’s universities. I received hundreds of toys and packaged them into small boxes. The NGO I was coordinating with wouldn’t estimate how many people would be going to a Christmas party or their age groups, so I discreetly asked mothers/residents in the temporary housing.

The night before the presents were to be delivered, the NGO called to ask how many toys I had. There were 73 boxes and a suitcase of stuffed animals ready to go. They said: “Good, since you have enough for all the kids coming to the party, you can come. But only bring 60.” If I hadn’t had enough, they weren’t going to accept the toys. It reminded me of the organization that tried to donate bicycles to Tohoku victims and was refused because it didn’t have enough for everyone and it wouldn’t be “fair.”

I interned at a startup called i-kifu, a donation platform that helps create visibility for Japanese NGOs in innovative ways to change the image people have of NGOs. So, I definitely agree with the editorial that governments need to continue to help NGOs as a way of creating a volunteer culture in Japan.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

midori araki