Getting Started

Step One

First, let’s talk about communication.  Set up an email address exclusively for your volunteer group, for example: . If your volunteer group is associated with a social organisation, consider using that organisation’s name in it, for example: No matter what name you use, make sure to set up an email account first, because communication is the key. You should also make a facebook group, with a logical name such as Osaka City Smile Kids Japan. This will allow other people to contact you about volunteering with you (in a long-term sustainable way).

Now let’s talk about the second basic component: commitment. Are you really ready to delve into this mid to long-term project? Are you prepared? Remember, we don’t want to start and stop lots of projects, it is not good for the kids. If you commit, really commit. If the language barrier is making you hesitant to commit, make sure to think ahead about how you will communicate with both the institution you are volunteering at and the children. We will provide you with cheat sheets, but also think about recruiting some Japanese volunteers to help. A school teacher can be a great person to help things get going, as they command respect and have good language skills.

Finding your local child welfare institution

Now that you have decided you are interested in starting child welfare institution visits in your community, the next step is to find an institution to visit. There are several ways to do this. The easiest, though not the most thorough way, is to search on Google maps. Simply search your area for 児童養護施設 「じどうようごしせつ」

If you are not successful using Google maps, your prefectural government website will often have details of facilities, but usually only in Japanese. Search your prefecture’s governmental website, search for 児童養護施設 「じどうようごしせつ」 in the site’s search bar. The institutions usually come under the title of alternative care 社会的養護 「しゃかいてきようご」

Recruit volunteers in your area.

Now, about finding those loyal volunteers to join the brigade… If you are a member of a teachers’ group, company, or other social organisation, try e-mailing members in your prefecture. Try to promote the volunteering at any meeting or conference your community holds. If there is a platform to speak and promote from, promote away! The facebook group you have set up can also be used to recruit volunteers. As much as possible, make sure they are local and committed to sustained volunteering.

Have an easy bilingual advertisement to field potential volunteers. Local International Associations (国際交流会館) often have bulletin boards to post flyers. See the following “Multilingual Cheat Sheet” (Link to download) for more promotion assistance. The more dedicated people you can reach, the more likely you are to have a strong, dependable group of volunteers. Just remember, don’t forget to include your email address and Facebook group on all your materials!

It is best to set up a pool of volunteers before contacting the institution. This prevents promising the institution and kids something you then can’t deliver. It is possible to volunteer on your own, or indeed with a friend. These visits more commonly revolve around homework help or other activities such as teaching an instrument.

Set up the first meeting

There are two main ways to do this

First, you can ask someone with good Japanese to call the institution and explain what you want to do briefly, and request a meeting with the head of the institution (often called Enchou sensei) to discuss details. A CIR or Japanese friend may be able to help you here. If people seem hesitant, be sure to mention that you aren’t some random person off the street, but a group of like-minded individuals and teachers in the community who would love to help.

Something we have found to be useful is to connect to institutions through teachers. Use Google maps to look at what schools are around the institution, and if you know the non-native Japanese teacher at these schools approach them and explain what you want to do. They can ask the teachers in the school if children from the institution attend the school and ask teachers for an introduction. The first Smile Kids Japan volunteer visit in Fukui started with a teacher’s kind introduction. An introduction from someone the institution is likely to know, whose position in society is fairly high, will increase the institution’s willingness to work with you.

At the first meeting with the orphanage, there is a lot to cover. Be sure to discuss:

  • The frequency of visits (a general goal is fine)
  • The approximate number of children participating
  • Where you will interact with the children – i.e. what kinds of playroom have they got – what size is it? (This will help your planning later).
  • Expected average number of volunteers per visit
  • The schedule of the visit – i.e. A 2 hour visit split into: 50 minutes of activities, 20 minutes ‘break’, 50 minutes of activities.
  • Who your primary contact at the institution will be (This is unlikely to be the head of the institution)
  • Are there any kids with particular issues you should know about. (Be aware that this might be sensitive, so don’t push too much. Even vague advice, such as the boys and girls don’t normally play together so may take a while to warm to some games, could help you later)

You can use our Japanese Cheat Sheet” to help explain your overall goals. Bring a few copies for the staff.