Yoko Hijikata, a Japanese-language teacher, often hears students complain how Japanese tend to turn a blind eye to foreigners they see experiencing trouble on the streets.

To help change that impression, Hijikata, who runs a firm that dispatches Japanese-language teachers and gives lessons in business etiquette to Japanese clients, set up the volunteer group Heartful Japan Campaign last month.

It encourages people to wear two types of badges -- a Heartful Japan badge to show they are volunteers, and those depicting national flags to show the languages they can speak.

"Japanese tend to be shy, and hesitate to talk to foreigners who appear, for instance, to be having difficulty finding their way," said Hijikata, who is fluent in French. "I felt that wearing the badges would compel people to speak to foreigners."

Hijikata made 3,000 Heartful Japan badges and bought 4,000 badges sporting the flags of 27 nations using money out of her own pocket.

So far, about 50 people who support her idea wear the badges and engage in volunteer work on an individual basis. Each badge costs 250 yen, and the proceeds are used to make badges and posters and publicize the group's activities, she said.

The idea of wearing badges to show language capability is not new. Many local governments and private organizations opt for this route during big events, such as when Japan cohosted the FIFA World Cup finals in 2002 with South Korea. But it hasn't become a firmly established trend.

Undaunted, Hijikata said she is willing to make the long-term commitment needed to spread the word.

"Engaging in volunteer activities is not a big thing, just something that you can do with a light heart when you have the time," she said. "Our activities provide people with an opportunity to experience it."