Here are five things Desk Officer Doug Young learned visiting Project Trust volunteers in Japan:
Everyone gets a warm welcome in Japan
One thing it is impossible not to notice when visiting Japan is how incredibly hospitable people are. Anyone who looks to be a stranger Japanese people will do their utmost to make them feel welcome, or help in any way they can. In particular this is good for volunteers because it means the hosts are incredibly conscientious and take great care of them, giving them a great base to settle, integrate into the local community and deliver a positive impact in their project.
Pride in 25 years of partnership
The projects we place volunteers in Japan are very proud of their heritage with Project Trust, and we are delighted to have sustained such long-running partnerships. Two of the projects are celebrating their 25th year of having volunteers in 2015 and they’re incredibly excited about it. Both are planning big events, and although the two projects are unrelated beyond hosting Project Trust volunteers, but they’re co-ordinating their celebrations with each other.
Japan juxtaposes history and modernity
Wherever I am in Japan I feel acutely aware of the country’s history and culture, but this is particularly the case in Kyoto where the culture is still as fresh as it was. You could visit a different temple in Kyoto every day for a year and you still wouldn’t have seen them all; Nijo Castle still looks the same as it would have 600 years ago because it has been so well maintained. Japan is very good at coupling its ancient heritage with very modern developments and has no qualms about aesthetics or restoration – as long as a building or structure represents something they are happy for a sky-scraper to sit next to a temple.
Snow is beautiful…for a few days
Because Japan is a relatively wealthy country people don’t really perceive of it as having the physical hardships that volunteers encounter in other countries – like, for example, having to endure very hot conditions in Ghana. But actually from the point of view of the environment and climate it can be hugely challenging. In the north between November and April you’ll spend most of your time dealing with five foot of snow. The snow is beautiful for a few days, but quickly becomes exhausting. At the other end of the spectrum the south of Japan is tropical and very hot. In Tokyo the heat combined with the sheer amount of people, cars and buildings means the humidity can reach 150 percent.
If you want to volunteer in Japan be prepared to teach all age groups
Project Trust volunteers in Japan work extremely hard and are making a big impact. Levels of English in Japan are still surprisingly low and the government has realised it is causing the country to lag behind in global markets. The government has made it a real priority to improve levels of English and the language is now taught in primary schools. The drive to improve levels of English means native English speakers are in huge demand, so there is a lot for volunteers to get involved in. This year volunteers have been working with all age groups, from the youngest school children to octogenarians, within every strata of society. Interacting with such a wide range of people gives the volunteers an in-depth insight into Japanese culture and society.