Volunteering in Japan: Children's Homes and Opportunities for Non-Japanese Speakers

Have you ever thought about getting involved and making a difference somehow? Working for a cause? Or just helping people (or animals)? And now you're in Japan, perhaps wondering what your options are.

There are, of course, many, many non-profit organizations in Japan, but not all of them accept volunteers who don't speak Japanese.

I've listed some options in last week's Lifelines column, and also took a look at getting involved with children's homes (orphanages) in Japan and how that works.

And by all means, let me know if you know of other options that should be mentioned! Thanks!

From baby massage to fostering pets, many options for volunteers | Japan Times

Local orphanages may be best bet for volunteers | Japan Times

22 Cool Japan Links From the Past 2 Weeks - July 29

At a temple entrance

Well, we're all moved into our new apartment, with some unpacking left to do still, of course. Please enjoy this latest collection of Japan links from the past two weeks, covering a wide range of topics, from 120 yen per square meter of land being sold in Hokkaido, to blue ramen and curry, to some fun summer words, to why Japan needs family doctors.

Pour yourself a glass of non-Japanese lemonade or some mugicha (or whatever your preferred cold beverage is) and relax a bit.

HOW TO: Use an Air Conditioner in Japan

Given that we're in the height of summer now with the rainy season behind us, temps are soaring across the country and folks are suffering from heatstroke left and right, this might be a good time to look at how to use your air conditioner, especially as I've received several requests for this post. Of course, we should all be trying to do our best to save electricity or finding other ways to cool off, but now that we have a baby, I understand the importance of regulating the temperature somewhat (or else, we NEVER sleep at night due to a cranky, hot little one).

And if the heat and humidity are enough to actually affect you negatively, then please be careful and cool down as needed. It's crazy (in a bad way) to see how many people are falling victim to the heat, this year and every year.

Back to your air conditioner. Keep in mind that aircon makes and models vary -- some have only the most basic features and others a long list of options. I'm using our air conditioner remote as an example for this post, but there are remotes that differ to some extent. Some features might be called something else under different models, as well.

air conditioner, aircon, remote, Japan, Japanese

HOW TO: End Your Battle With Mold in the Bathroom

If you've lived in Japan for any length of time, you know how frustrating it can be to keep the mold away. (And if you haven't lived here yet, well, you'll soon find out...) It grows like a wild beast here. I thought we had pretty bad mold in the pacific northwest in the States, but it's terrible here. I mean, if it isn't rusting, it's probably molding at some point.

OK, maybe not everything, but it does feel like it sometimes!

Not to mention, I'm allergic to it.

It's been four years in Japan and every year I realize more and more just how hard it can be to WIN the mold war, short of bleaching everything in sight (which, I don't do, for various reasons).

So how can you keep it from taking over? And when it's spreading it's nastiness around your bathroom, how do you get rid of it? Here are some ideas:

Accommodation in Japan: Share Houses

Japan, share house, accommodation, living
Living area of a share house in Japan. Photo provided by Tokyo Sharehouse.

For some folks, finding a place to live in Japan can be a challenge, particularly if you don’t speak Japanese fluently. I’ll be addressing this more in the coming months in terms of finding and renting an apartment (less than a week until we move!), but today I’d like to introduce a potential option (and Surviving in Japan’s July sponsor) that might appeal to some of you: living in a share house. 

The basic concept of a share house is similar to dorms, some hostels, or sharing an apartment or flat with someone (or a few people) in western countries. Several people live together in the same house or apartment and share common areas like the kitchen, living room and bathrooms, but have some private space, such as, at the very least, a bedroom.) One difference about share houses as opposed to other types of room sharing is that there is a management company and/or administrator involved, so you have someone to go to with problems that you can’t or don’t want to discuss with your roomies.

Some of you might be thinking of the “gaijin houses”, which are share houses for foreigners living in Japan. This term is still used, and there are share houses that still fit this term, but more Japanese people have been staying in share houses over the years so “share house” or “guest house” are becoming more commonly used.

Share houses in Japan can be quite basic or on the more luxurious end of things (as you can see from the pictures in this post), depending on the house, and rooms are typically furnished with a bed, air conditioner, television, small fridge and desk.

share house, Japan, bedroom, living, accommodation
A standard bedroom in a share house. Photo provided by Tokyo Sharehouse.

Who are share houses for?

Share houses host a variety of people, although they are most popular with students and working adults in their 20s and 30s. The average length of stay is anywhere from one month up to one year. This is helpful if you only plan to be in Japan a short time, but not so short that you want to live out of a hotel, whether for school, a long trip or if you’re completely new to Japan and don’t want to live by yourself in an apartment in those first weeks or months.

A share house might also be a good fit if you’re a people person and enjoy socializing, like taking part in events and/or parties, and it can also provide a chance to immerse yourself in Japanese.

Why live in a share house?

Aside from the social aspects and emphasis on community, a share house can be more budget-friendly, as they don’t usually require deposits, key money and/or other initial fees that many apartments in Japan do. This does depend, though, as we found when searching for our new apartment. Although if a share house requires these fees, they will probably be relatively low.

Costs depend on the house you stay at and where it’s located, so obviously a house in or near the center of Tokyo will generally be more expensive than those farther away (with some exceptions, particularly if you are willing to teach English once or twice a week). So you might pay as low as 30,000 yen a month or up to 80,000 yen a month (in the greater Tokyo area).

share house, guest house, Japan, dining, living, accommodation
Dining and Living area in a share house. Photo provided by Tokyo Sharehouse.

You also don’t always need a guarantor, as you often will when renting an apartment in Japan. We didn’t need a guarantor for our apartment, but they asked us to list some “emergency contacts” here in Japan, basically to take care of our stuff if we just up and leave the country with no notice (more on that in a later post). It is possible to hire a guarantor company, but this adds on more expenses.

Of course, share houses aren’t for everyone, such as families with children or if you’re more introverted and don’t prefer to socialize at home. If you have any issues sharing with others (showers, kitchen, etc.) or just prefer to have everything to yourself, then a share house probably isn’t a good option for you.

They also aren’t necessarily available everywhere, so you may be limited to the major cities. If you plan to live in Tokyo, for example, it’s no problem, but if you want to live out in the countryside, you may want to look into other options.

OK, this might be a good option for me. How do I get started?

One way is to search around online. There are quite a few results in English, although you’ll probably find more options in Japanese (シェアハウス in Japanese, but you can also search for room shares and similar terms).

Also, some companies are able to promote themselves more heavily to the English-speaking community than others, such as the bigger chains (due to the language barrier), so you might miss out on finding the many other houses that exist.

Another option is Surviving in Japan’s July sponsor, Tokyo Sharehouse, which fills the gap for non-Japanese speakers by helping them to find share houses in the greater Tokyo area, including Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba (with plans to expand to other areas of Japan in the future). They also act as an intermediary if the share house management can’t communicate in English (at no charge to you).

Otherwise, all you typically need to stay in a share house in Japan is ID, your passport, a current visa and of course, money.

Japan, share house, living, accommodation, bedroom
Bedroom at a share house. Photo provided by Tokyo Sharehouse.

Tokyo Sharehouse’s website also has a helpful FAQ regarding share houses in Japan.

So tell us, have any of you ever stayed at a share house? If so, what was your experience like?


This post was brought to you by Tokyo Sharehouse, a portal site devoted to making it easier for non-Japanese speakers to find share houses in the greater Tokyo area. Many thanks to them also for providing share house information and photos for this post. 

HOW TO: Save Money While Traveling in Japan - Tofugu Post

Whether you live in Japan or not, most people want to save money, especially if and when traveling.

I've seen numerous "how to save money traveling in Japan" posts out there, and while most are helpful to some degree, are mainly seen through the eyes of travelers, rather than residents.

There are of course, hundreds of ways to save money in regards to living in Japan (another future post here), but for now, if you're planning a trip in Japan, here are some ways I and my family save money when we travel.

You might not be convinced, but these ideas might not all be what you'd expect.

Have some of your own budget-friendly travel tips to share? Hop on over and leave a comment!

25 Ways to Save Money While Traveling in Japan | Tofugu

24 Click-Worthy Japan Links From the Past 2 Weeks - July 15

fireworks, summer, Japan

It suddenly got ridiculously humid here in Shizuoka, and it feels like a big choke hold. Here's another round of Japan links, including how to wear a yukata, Hokkaido's abandoned rail, how to travel cheap by train without a Japan Rail Pass, and more. Enjoy!

(And a note to those of you in Kyushu and Shikoku - reading and hearing about all that's happening is frightening. I truly hope if you're reading this that you're safe and well, but my thoughts are with everyone there right now. Please be careful.)

Living in Japan

Hokkaido nervous about winter power supply (The Japan Times) - Appropriate, as it's so dang cold there in winter...

Guys, not sure how to wear that yukata? Check out this video for some tips.

And girls, a how-to-wear-a-yukata video for you too. (Hat tip to Japan Pulse)

Got some old jeans you don't wear anymore? Bring them to Gap for a 20% off coupon and help folks out in the process. They are accepting used/old denim, whether it's Gap brand or not, and you can receive a 20% off coupon per item you bring. The project goes from July 16 to August 19 and excludes mini skirts and baby denim (unless it's Baby Gap brand). All items must be washed and need to be wearable (no holes, fraying, noticeable dirt spots, broken or missing buttons/zippers, etc.). Donations are going to the Japan Relief Clothing Center NPO to be sent to people around the world in need of these items.

Breaker, breaker: How to conserve energy without thinking too much (Yen for Living) - Useful tip if you own a home.

Complex rules in place for safety's sake, but Red Cross still wants your blood (The Japan Times) - Hopefully the last in our blood donation saga...

How to keep your health insurance when you can’t pay for it (Yen for Living) - Good to know.

Old Navy is in Japan! Who's going? (The Japan Times)

24 Handy Resources for Traveling in Japan

Japan, travel, resources, howto

Are you traveling to (or in) Japan this summer? Or sometime this year? Are you prepared for the heat and humidity of summer, the difficult-to-read food labels if you don't know Japanese, or how to find reasonably-priced fruit?

Do you know how to find insect bite medicine if the mosquitoes eat you alive?

Or how to find a non-smoking restaurant if you're sensitive to smoke (it's harder than you think).

Or even the most seemingly simplest of tasks, customizing your favorite caffeine beverage at one of those major coffee chains if there aren't any English-speaking staff available. Some of the customizations might not be what you're accustomed to...

Below you'll find answers to all of the above, plus more tips and advice you probably won't find in any guidebooks that might come in handy while you're traveling around Japan.

Japan, dance, festival, matsuri

First of all, although the rainy season has ended in Okinawa and will soon be ending on the main islands, here are some ways to deal with general heat and humidity summer in Japan usually brings: Surviving the Rainy Season in Japan: 40 Tips

You successfully managed to send your luggage from the airport off to your destination, but how do you send it back when you're heading home? HOW TO: Deliver Your Luggage to the Airport

If you want to save money, one of the best ways to do so is by booking with a Japanese travel site (preferably in Japanese), or directly via the hotel's Japanese version of the site. It's a bit daunting at first, but here's a guide to help walk you through the process: HOW TO: Make a Hotel Reservation Online (in Japanese)


About Cycling and Biking in Japan
If you plan to ride a bicycle at all, you'll want to be aware of some of the rules of the road (although these aren't always strictly enforced).

biking, cycling, Japan, rules

HOW TO: Find Shinkansen and Express Train Seating Charts
If you're worried about being seated near a smoking car (some trains still have them, though nowadays most don't) or just want to have a better idea of where you'll be sitting (or want to choose), this will tell you what you need to know.

Planning to ride local buses? Major cities and popular tourist destinations usually have bus information listed in English (you'll want to check the tourist information centers for more), but in other cities almost everything is in Japanese, and believe me when I say it's sometimes incredibly confusing to figure out. To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, see HOW TO: Find Bus Routes/Schedules Online - Part 1 and Part 2.


The Ultimate Guide to Reading Food Labels in Japan - Enough said. You'll be glad you read this.

food, labels, Japanese, Japan, read, howto

HOW TO: Find Allergy-Friendly Food in Japan - If you have any kind of food allergy, make sure to read this post.

Looking for inexpensive fruit and veggies? The trick is to check out local farmer's markets or morning markets: HOW TO: Find a Farmer's Market in Japan

HOW TO: Find a non-smoking restaurant in Japan - Most restaurants in Japan still allow smoking, although more are creating separate sections for smokers and non-smokers. If you have issues with smoke, have kids, etc., here is a way to find suitable dining spots.

HOW TO: Customize Your Drinks at Starbucks or Tully's in Japan - Just in case you can't find any English-speaking staff. And Japan does some customizations a bit differently.

Japanese Phrase Cards for Vegans, Vegetarians, People With Food Allergies, or Other Dietary Restrictions - These would be handy to carry around.


If you're coming from abroad, it's probably best to bring your own sunscreen, but if you're staying a while and/or run out, here's A Guide to Sunscreen in Japan

sunscreen, Japan, guide, summer, travel

HOW TO: Find anti-itch, insect bite medicine in Japan - The mosquitoes are incredibly annoying here. If you don't bring your own medicine (might be a good idea to do so), here's how to find some relief for those bites.

HOW TO: Find motion sickness medication in Japan - Feeling a little nauseous? Forgot your motion sickness medicine at home? Here's what to look or ask for.


Why not head to the movies? Here's all you need to know, including some tips to find discounts (because the movies tend to be expensive here in Japan): 7 tips for going to the movies in Japan

movies, Japan

HOW TO: Find a fireworks festival (花火大会) this summer - Don your yukata and geta, grab a hand fan and plastic tarp, and enjoy a spectacular Japanese summer pastime.

fireworks, Japan, festival

Maybe you're planning to conquer Mt. Fuji, but if you want to explore places a little less crowded, here's how to find hiking trails in Japan.

HOW TO: Take great travel photos when you visit Japan - Some useful tips to visually document your journey.

If you want to explore one of Japan's many water parks or just cool off in a pool, learn HOW TO: Find a recreational pool or water park in Japan

Other Tips

Make life easy - 8 tools for surviving in Japan - Though more geared for folks living here in Japan, these apps and resources will come in handy when traveling or planning travel activities as well.

HOW TO: Transfer Money To and From Japan - If you run out of cash and don't want to use your credit card, or for any other reason, here's how you can receive money while in Japan.

money, Japan, transfer

5 Ways to Not Stand Out in Japan - Many foreigners tend to stick out like a sore thumb, but guest poster Caroline provides some advice on how to blend in.

A Guide to Convenience Store Copy, Print, and Fax Services in Japan - Just in case you need to make copies, print something out, send a fax, or whatever. Granted, hotels usually have these services, but the convenience stores are also really, well, convenient. I've listed what each of the major convenience store chains provide and whether they offer services in English or not.

convenience store, 7-11, Japan

Q&A: Where to Find Double-Walled Cardboard Boxes

Q: I was wondering if you could help me locate a supplier of double walled boxes, I need them for packing up my goods and shipping them back home. I have been told by the shipping company that regular single walled boxes (like the ones you find with goods stacked in them, e.g. washing powder), are not strong enough to endure shipping. So far I have only found single-walled boxes at my supermarkets and 100 Yen stores.


HOW TO: Find Allergy-Friendly Food in Japan

Today I'm happy to share with you this fabulously helpful post from Kirsten Adachi of Cooking in Japan. If you have food allergies, and you're living in or moving to Japan, Kirsten has explained, with translations and phrases, everything you need to know. -Ashley


A while ago someone on Twitter asked about soy free miso and was referred to me for help. After a quick Google search in Japanese I found out that you can buy miso (and soy sauce) made from quinoa. This piqued my interest despite not having any food allergies myself -- just sensitivities to things I don’t really like anyway (dairy and peanuts). I thought that this would be a perfect topic for Surviving in Japan.
Info source: Report from Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (2002, 2005)Chart translated from here.

Food Allergens Required to be Labeled   材料7品目 (zairyou nana hinmoku)

allergies, Japan, food
Image source

If you look through food allergy information in Japan you will come across a list of seven over and over again. These are: eggs, milk, wheat, buckwheat, peanuts, shrimp and crab. Products containing these ingredients are required to be labeled.

Why these seven? According to the allergy handbook produced by the Japan Consumer Affairs Agency these seven allergens can produce the severest reactions (think anaphylactic shock). In Japan eggs, milk and wheat make up 70% of food allergies.

31 Worthwhile Japan Links From the Past Two Weeks - July 3

crane, Japan, river, countryside
What's happenin' crane?

Hello again, friends! Another gathering of links for your perusal. Not as much commentary from me this week, though. We're in the midst of moving and I've got quite a few deadlines. But no worries, lots of great content headed your way! Enjoy!

Living in Japan

The curious case of the eroding eikaiwa salary (Japan Times) - If you work for an eikaiwa here in Japan, have you found this to be true as well?

How to Make a Natural Hot Spring in the Comfort of Your Own Home (RocketNews24) - Onsen water, to go?

Ministry mulls tax on overseas Net content (Japan Times) - I'm not thrilled at all about this one.

More Japanese motorists killed on expressways after exiting vehicles (The Japan Daily Press) - So be careful kids, when exiting a vehicle if you get into an accident.

Japan Ticket Association Offers Western Union Money Transfer Service (Japan Today)

New Japanese law could lead to jail time for illegal downloads (The Japan Daily Press)


Drink machine cold at night, off in day (Japan Times) - Sounds weird at first, I know, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Really.

Saitama Prefecture Introduces First "Green Roof" Convenience Store Project (Japan for Sustainability)

Tokyo Suburb Starts Car & Bike Sharing Program (Japan for Sustainability) 

Getting Involved

Local orphanages may be best bet for volunteers (Japan Times) - Interested in volunteering at a children's home? Here are some things you should know.

Cat Café & Foster Home “Ekoneko” Perfect if You Want to Relax With Cats or Rescue Them (RocketNews24) - Sounds Purrfect to me. :)

In shift, public increasingly wants larger role for dads in child-rearing (Japan Times)

Japan’s Human Trafficking Problems Not Resolved: US State Department (Japan Subculture Research Center)