Volunteer in Japan as a Community Volunteer

Posted on the 9th December 2019

Eleanor was a Lattitude volunteer in Japan, working as a “Community Volunteer” and helping people with disabilities in the wonderful Hanshin Cheshire Home.

What made you want to volunteer in Japan?

I decided to volunteer with Lattitude because I wanted to make a difference. After studying for my final years at school, I felt burnt out, demoralised and I really wanted to make a change to both my life, and other peoples lives. Lattitude seemed like the perfect fit for me, I got to take a break from studying, travel AND make a difference!

I chose to be a Community Volunteer in Japan, because I’d studied the language on and off since I was about 13, and I had fallen in love with the country and the culture. I really wanted to A) improve my rather sketchy Japanese skills and B) immerse myself in the life and culture that was so different to mine!

Walk us through a day in the life of your placement.

At my placement, Hanshin Cheshire Home, the day started with breakfast. So, you did all the normal things, snooze your alarm about ten times, get up, eat, and get ready for work. At the start of the day my partner and I would help clear away breakfast dishes, feed residents, and generally keep an eye out in case anything was amiss.

After breakfast we would walk the residents through Radio Taiso, a Japanese exercise to keep young children (and adults) healthy and fit! The next bit of the day was Tea Service, where we helped all the residents to drink their morning tea! This took around an hour, and when there was no-one to either serve or go and get to serve, we would make Oshibori (Hot towels).

Lunch was the main part of the day, and we fed all the residents and cleaned up all the dishes, and then we got our lunch! (Which we were always ready for)! The rest of the day then consisted of dryer service (drying and styling everyone’s hair after they had been bathed), and on some days we would help run some of the various activities the residents participated in (for example; Tea Ceremonies, Flower Arranging classes, etc.)

Where did you stay?

I stayed with a flatmate in a little apartment on site! My flatmate and I pretty much gelled the moment we met, and we became the best of friends by the end of the programme. It was amazing to have someone just to yell at from the next room, or to annoy them with stupid jokes. My flatmate and I did pretty much everything together, and it was such a bonus to have someone so amazing to share the experience with!

How was orientation when you first arrived?

During orientation we did various activities, obviously, we did all the safety and health info, (which was actually quite enjoyable) but we also had some Japanese college students come to meet our group of volunteers and take us around sightseeing! We also got told pretty much everything we needed to know about living in the country, we got shown how to catch trains, order food, and all kinds of other things that I would never have thought to ask about! And also, we got to go to Harajuku street AND A beautiful temple! What more could you want?!

Volunteer in Japan - Eleanor 004

Differences between Japan and home?

The language barrier did make the work slightly harder, but by using non-verbal cues, and of course lots of sign language, we got by! You actually learn a lot more of the language than you expect, and by being open and prepared to make a fool of yourself you get through pretty easily!

Some of the biggest differences between home and Japan definitely included food (lots of rice), manners, and the overall crowdedness of the place. Everyone is so much more polite and courteous in Japan, most noticeably in public transport systems such as trains. People lined up in an orderly fashion, unlike where I come from which A) doesn’t have trains and B) all public transport is rather rough. Another noticeable difference was the level of formality in Japan. Australia is a rather casual society, so the difference for me was stark. However, none of these differences were bad, they just took some getting used to!

How were the locals?

The local people were all really friendly and kind! Again, definitely more shy and reserved than average people from home, but people were always willing to help me out, show me in the right direction, or even just practice general chit chat! Lots of locals offered to help me and my flatmate when we were lost, and lots of people even tried to speak English to us!

Did you get many travel opportunities?

I travelled quite a bit while I was in Japan, mostly day trips though. We went to lots of places such as Himeji, Kobe, Osaka, Shin-Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and lots of other places! There are so many beautiful temples and castles to see, and if you like shopping there are lots of amazing shopping malls!

Volunteer in Japan - Eleanor 003

How was the food?

I love (most) Japanese food, so I was mostly fine. However, I really hate fish! So our meals at our placement were fish at least once a day, which was a little hard for me! But if you are willing to try things (I did actually try eating fish) and use some of your allowance or your own money to get top ups if you need, then you’ll be fine!

What do you think was your favourite moment?

I think my favourite moment was when the residents of the home I was working at decided they actually liked us, and wanted to do things with us. This was such a special moment, having people smile and laugh just because you said ‘hello’ to them was such a wonderful thing. But in reality it’s actually very hard to pick a favourite moment, because every moment was so good!

What positive impact, even small, do you think you made?

I think I made people happy, which is exactly what I wanted to do. I went to Japan with the intention of at least making ONE person smile, and I did far more than that. I think that just by talking and laughing with each and every one of the residents, and always being open and kind meant that I really connected with the people I was taking care of.

I definitely made lots of connections while I was on the programme. I made friends with most of my co-workers, so it was really nice to be able to go into work and talk to the permanent workers there. I also made friends with lots of the other Lattitude volunteers in Japan at the time, and I know I will keep these friendships for a long time.

Volunteer in Japan - Eleanor 002

What kind of things were you able to do in your downtime?

We were able to do heaps of day trips on our days off! We were also able to go to the mall relatively often, and people were always recommending festivals to go to! There’s so much to do, and we had enough downtime to fill the trip with positive experiences, such as eating out at a really good ramen place, or having picnics along the river, and of course doing lots of shopping and sightseeing!

Can you give examples of any personal development you may have gained?

I think the most noticeable development in myself has been my confidence. Leaving home to volunteer in Japan, doing something so out of my comfort zone, while having support from all the staff at Lattitude in case I needed it, helped me grow the resilience and confidence to deal with anything. I grew a huge amount in my ability to problem solve as well, and my people skills and the ability to actually talk to people tripled, at least! I became so much more independent, and I now have the ability to go out into the world and confidently do anything I want to.

Finally, what are you planning on doing next, and has your Lattitude experience helped or influenced your path in any way?

Next up for me is going to University. Lattitude definitely influenced me by helping to grow my confidence enough to move out, so I am moving out of home to go to Uni next year. I’m going on to study a Bachelor of Psychology, and I really hope I can keep helping people like I did in the Lattitude programme. I’m also hoping to do an exchange to Japan in second year!



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