Article About Volunteering in Japan

This report was compiled by the Rescue Japan organization.
Contact:   (best viewed on your laptop or desktop)

This document is for Foreign Volunteers who want to help in Japan. My group and many others were in Tohoku in 2011 and we saw the many mistakes made by inexperienced people who wanted to help and whos hearts were in the right place but did not follow many rules in Japan regarding volunteering in disaster zones. I’m posting this article to point out a few areas that may be of interest for those of you who want to help when the all-clear is given for civilian volunteers to come  to Ishikawa.

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Disaster Relief in Japan

There are many detailed policies documented on how to handle disasters but local Government within the disaster zones will ultimately be the deciding body of how to conduct relief duties. Always check with their websites and subscribe to their Twitter(X) feeds. They use social platforms just as much as the rest of us.

Here are some basic knowledge regarding relief programs in Japan, you may be interested in:

  • Drop-shipment of Aid supplies is illegal in Japan. You cannot drop containers or bags of supplies out of aircraft to inaccessible areas. Aid must be flown into inaccessible areas by helicopter and must land to deliver… or be driven or hiked in from accessible roads.
  • Since most search and recovery will likely be completed by the time they allow civilian volunteers into the area, you can focus on providing Aid supplies and manpower where it is needed. Start planning now if you want to help. If you do recover human remains you should call the authorities immediately.
  • No one is interested in heroes breaking the law. Follow the law and guidelines when volunteering. Disaster relief is becoming more strict for non-government and non-sanctioned emergency workers. Follow the rules please.
  • Never go into a disaster area without a local guide. The people who live there volunteering always know the local people who need certain supplies like medical Aid etc. When necessary and when possible, try to acquire the help of a local coordinator to go into disaster areas when volunteering or to deliver Aid. Otherwise you will likely be guided to a place outside but close to the disaster area. If there is a local NGO in the area I would check with them first before sending Aid. Some areas have authorized the drop off of Aid, but please check before sending anything. Also check our guidelines below if you are a local charity wanting to help.
  • The local Government must give the all-clear before civilians are allowed into a disaster area. Particularly people who are not from the area. Some media is allowed in. Check with the Ishikawa local Governments websites before strapping on your volunteer gear and heading out. I can’t stress this enough. As they already have trained fire, rescue and police in the area doing search and recovery. You will be simply in the way. Let them clear the area first. This is most important. There are things they do not want civilians to see. I don’t have to go into detail on that. For those of you who want to just jump in your trucks and go into a disaster zone without a plan, don’t do it.
  • Aid supplies is coming in from all over Japan now. The distribution centers are flooded with it. And it is constant. You do not have to drive Aid in Ishikawa unless you are working directly with a Temporary Shelter. This is important. In Japan is about scrupulous proportions… I really don’t have to explain that do I? Everyone must be included in food donations… not some, not a few…all. And the only way to ensure that is follow the guides of local Government and let them do their jobs. It’s ok to leave your contact with some of these temporary shelters in case they do have complaints about not getting Aid. But do not rush to judgement. This time the Aid supply and recovery seems to be going the way it is supposed to. Not like in 2011 when the damaged areas were 20 times the size. 


Let’s get into more detail

  • Always check with Government updates for information on how to drive into a disaster zone. No matter how much you think you know, there is no way possible you yourself have the resources a Government has. They have eyes everywhere and are constantly collecting information to keep people safe in disaster zones. Police, fire and rescue and Government sponsored NPOs in the area will always keep updating. Unless you have access to that information you really don’t know what’s happening. Always stay informed. Check with social media as well. People in the disaster zone will have a lot of detailed information. For example, you could be looking at a Google map and think a bridge is in a certain area…and at night you can’t see it. And drive yourself right off of it (assuming police haven’t had time to block or put proper signage up yet). It’s always good to check for updates first before driving into a disaster area.
  • Always follow the law. In 2011 we found out that many foreign drivers falsified permits on their trucks etc, to drive without paying toll road fees. Because let’s face it, toll road fees in Japan are inherently expensive. At one point, the local Governments suspended toll fees for Aid deliveries. However when they were reinstated, that’s when we saw many of the scams occur. Not following the law is irresponsible…and could land you in jail. Do not falsify driving and/or road permits. In doing so in 2011, people who did this made it harder for the rest of us who were following the law.
  • When road-blocks are up, do not go around them. No one is that dumb. Yet we saw it happen many times in 2011. Trying to be a hero will get you killed. Road-blocks are there for a reason.
  • Always be prepared to stay for long periods of time. Even if you were planning to drop off Aid and leave, your plans can be easily disrupted. The road behind you while driving could disappear during a quake. Most drivers know how to use GPS and find other routes out of a disaster zone, but consider if there is no way out. And you are stuck. How do you survive? When stores have depleted their supplies and you’ve already dropped off your supplies, do you have food to survive while being stuck in the disaster zone? Be prepared to stay a while. Sleeping bags, medicine, dry & canned food, emergency medical kit, spare tires, and a fully charged phone with extra fuel in a can is what you need to take as a driver. Passengers should carry their own rations as well, for survival in case you get stuck.
  • What are you wearing? We saw many people wearing sports shoes and fashionable clothes while volunteering in disaster zones. Really? This isn’t a Vogue review. You need survival gear when you go into a disaster zone, Always wear proper clothing. It is cold in Ishikawa. And since there is debris everywhere the chances of you stepping on sharp objects is real. We suggest the following:
  • Large backpack with extra supplies including a medical kit
  • Steel toe workers shoes or hiking boots
  • Face masks because the smell will be unbearable in some places
  • A heavy duty construction or earthquake helmet which can be purchase for less than 3,000 yen on Amazon
  • Workers gloves, which you can get at coins shops now days (these are the ones with the grips in the fabric)
  • Construction clothing or at least heavy jeans…if you fall into a ditch you want to lessen the possibility of getting injured… think of it like a motorcyclist. Protect your body at all costs.
  • Protective glasses, because you never know what is being blown in the air…even if you don’t wear them 100% of the time, keep them with you.
  • Keep your phone charged, carry a backup battery and charger pack, in your backpack… (my team carries phones and two-way radios) if you have a GPS locator… bring it!!!
  • Carry extra food supplies or medical supplies in your survival kit. You might find someone wandering around who needs immediate help.
  • If you have a bright colored large workers vest for exterior wear (over your coat), do it. The more visible you are, the easier to find if you get lost in areas you are not familiar with. Assuming your electronics fail, someone will have to find you.
  • This is not the place for influencers. People need help. Not show-boaters. People are not interested in idiots in a disaster zone to collect clicks. If you are not there to help people, please don’t go.


The following is in regards to collecting Aid in other areas and driving it to Ishikawa. This is where the really stupid stuff happens. Please read objectively:

  • Aid collection and delivery is not for everyone. But if you do have the capacity to collect Aid and drive it into the disaster zone or nearby, check with local Aid distribution centers first. I cannot stress this enough. Not checking first will get your Aid shelved, and you’ll end up wasting your time.
  • Do not accept Aid from people looking to clean out their closets. This has got to be the most frequent mistake people make when providing Aid supplies. Because they didn’t check with the Aid distributors and shelters first, before collecting and driving it into the disaster zone. See the latest list (below) we assembled from what has been reported. Read the descriptions of some of the odd requested items. We’ll tell you why.
  • Local Governments want large shipments of Aid. We are talking 100s of bags of rice, 100s of pallets of water, that sort of thing. The problem is that small organizations don’t have it. As a charity organization, buying supplies can sometimes be a big mistake. You should be collecting it from people who want to donate Aid supplies. Any cash you collect as donations should be directed to cover transport costs and whatever is needed for the survival of your organization’s volunteers in the disaster area.
  • Collecting Suggestions. Since one individual can be overwhelmed with collecting or buying supplies, here is what we suggest on how to collect Aid supplies. Share this with your donors. Tell them to get friends, family and coworkers to collect funding, then purchase whatever supplies are needed in large quantities. This can be done by ordering online as well. We suggest one group buys large quantities of the same product. Other groups buy large quantities of another product. Individuals making contributions should collaborate with others to increase the supplies. Tell them don’t try to do it all yourself. Get help.
  • Individuals Who Can Afford Large Purchases. If any of your donors ask to donate a substantial amount of money or supplies ask them to purchase only what is being requested from the evacuation centers. Acquiring the supplies in Japan will lessen the time of delivery. Keep in mind food is critical. If your donor can afford 100 bags of rice…please have them do it.
  • Where Do I send Supplies? Always have a place to send the supplies to. Get help with storage. To keep things simple, if you or your donors are collecting supplies locally, use your office space, garage, or an empty apt if you have access to one. But always make sure there are accessible doors, elevators and other means to move quickly. A large storage facility is best on 1F level. Easy in, easy out. This is critical. Some offices can use conference room space for storing supplies until it’s time to ship them out. If you are a local charity, coordinate with organizations or individuals who have access to storage or office space.
  • Logistics. In the world of charity service, timing is especially critical. Not only to save lives but to manage the aftermath of Aid supply delivery. Keeping people alive is essential. However, many of the shelters and evacuation facilities have limited space. You can’t send everything at once. Local storage is necessary. As we do support the rule that no charity should be sitting on supplies for more than a week, we also acknowledge that moving supplies to critical areas is essential to survival. Always check with the shelters you are supporting before sending Aid. Make sure you are sending the correct items they need, and always deliver when you promise. Working closely with a shelter or Evacuation center will save time and money and get the proper Aid to the people who need it.
  • Storage or collection facility near the disaster zone. The Rescue Japan organization is constantly updating the website with information about where to ship supplies.

Get together with friends and colleagues when doing Aid relief. This allows you and your colleagues to build up a larger quantity of supplies. It is very clear from the local Governments in Ishikawa that they do not want supplies from individuals. Only companies, and NPOs. Rescue Japan (which has been around since 2011) works with all charities and groups who want to help. There is truly strength in numbers.


Things to remember

  • Local supply distribution centers are receiving Aid from all over Japan at the moment. These are credible centers that people come to every day to get supplies. Also evacuation centers rely on them. But they have limited space to place pallets of supplies. They are getting overwhelmed as we speak. Running out of space. This is why collecting locally and sending large shipments in sequence is especially important. We suggest sending Aid weekly if you can manage it. These facilities do run out of supplies at some point because people in the immediate community rely on them as the people being sheltered there. Also keep in mind the shelter directors are trained on how to ration supplies, so your Aid is more than likely in good hands.
  • 2ndly, most Evacuation shelters will not accept Aid if you drive and knock on the door. They are instructed not to. It is because most large shelters have so many people that they cannot rely on small shipments of Aid. This is a rule. If the shelter cannot feed everyone at one time, they wait for more supplies. You would be surprised how well this rule is being followed. Example: If you send 500 lunch boxes to a shelter, and they have 510 people, they will hold the lunch boxes until the other 10 arrives. I am not kidding you right now. Keep this in mind.
  • If an Evacuation shelter is functioning and has a phone, call first before delivering Aid. Verify the occupancy. Verify what is needed. The above note explains this. You need to know how many people are at the shelter before delivering Aid. Because of the high capacity of some shelters it’s important to take a large quantity of Aid at a time. Not a variety of smaller quantities of different supplies. Try to focus on large quantities of the same supply. For example Lawsons, Familymart and 711 sent お握り (rice ball). They focused together on large quantities of this same product. This makes perfect sense to us.
  • The non-government temporary Shelters are best for smaller shipments. These are places that were turned into temporary shelters because people in their community came there for refuge. The owners of these properties are constantly posting on Twitter(X) for help with supplies. Find them. These are stores, restaurants, local garages, supply shops, warehouses, and people’s homes that are big enough to take in several families. They provide a very friendly and appreciative atmosphere when you arrive. A 2-ton truck goes a long way to help people in temporary shelters of this kind. If you are a small charity who wants to help in a substantial way, target the temporary shelters. Larger shelters are more likely covered by Government appointed NGOs but smaller temporary shelters are likely the places in most need at the moment.

And keep in mind these locations are isolated. Which is why they are not at the larger evacuation shelters. Some of them cannot move to the other shelters. There could be a number of reasons as to why these people cannot leave their area. The more common one is elderly conditions. We found many elderly care facilities in Fukushima where they simply could not move their patients. Your Aid will go a long way in many of these types of places as well.

  • Let me share 2 types of supply lists that are being compiled for relief. The list here is common Aid supply that local governments are requesting:
  • Sanitary gel
  • Bottled Water
  • Canned non-perishable foods
  • Bags of Rice
  • Toiletries (toilet paper, tooth brushes, tissue etc)
  • Some areas are requesting porta-potties (portable toilets)
  • Pampers
  • Face Masks
  • Baby milk and bottles

Also remember to tell your donors, please don’t consider charity Aid ‘cleaning your closets and pantries’. People tend to get this wrong more often than you think. Always state what is needed and what you are asking people to donate. Stick to your list. Do not send items that are not being requested by the shelters.

  • For small shelters or what is considered ‘temporary shelters’ they have the same needs. Except they probably won’t get porta-potties. This is important to note. Especially in areas where there is no running water. In addition to the above list, check our list of supplies to take when you are driving into areas with no power or water. Some of these items may seem odd. But I promise, this is what we saw and were requested to bring to Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate Evacuation Shelters.
  • We supplied Large Sandwich Bags to centers with no running water. They use them as toilets. Don’t judge… survival is survival.
  • Another item we found odd in some of these overcrowded places was Saran-wrap. They covered plates and bowls with it because they can’t wash dishes. They simply throw away the saran-wrap when finished using the plate. Another person can then use it. Very efficient. With no running water, keeping the area and the utensils clean is essential. If you can send paper-plates, and plastic or wooden disposable spoons, and or おはし (chop sticks), do it. Large quantities please. Disposable items are King in evacuation shelters. 
  • Wet-naps are used for a variety of reasons but also keep in mind people must sanitize themselves. It is the only way with no running water. Campers can verify this.
  • If you are delivering to elderly centers, always don’t forget to send medium and large sized Diapers. Yes. The Elderly uses them.
  • Another note to be aware of is the big shelters are getting the most supplies, the smaller ones (temporary shelters) are suffering the most. However, it gets worse. Once surrounding communities find out the temporary shelters are receiving Aid, they start to come to collect supplies. That is where your help is really needed. Because supplies will deplete much quicker.
  • When food from overseas is rejected. In some cases if donated canned or packaged food does not have Japanese labels on it, some people are afrAid to eat it. Allergies and other medical ailments could hinder acceptance. If you are delivering food contributed from overseas please cover the back of the product with a label written in Japanese describing what is in the ingredients.
  • Volunteering during cleanup operations:  If you have never worked in a disaster area before, there are a few things you should probably prepare for. Being killed is one of them. No to discourage people from volunteering but let’s face it… you are in a disaster zone. They are called disaster zones for a reason. Make sure your affairs are in order before heading out to volunteer in a disaster zone. Also don’t assume that the disaster zone is in the area where the most damage is. Because at any moment another earthquake could occur and take out even more real estate. Possibly where you plan to volunteer. Be careful and be prepared.
    • Before going to volunteer in a disaster zone, make sure your health insurance is up to date. Rescue Japan does not accept volunteers without health insurance. Injuries could occur. Very easily.
    • Be sure you have your Government issued ID or Passport. If something happens to you, your ID will provide information to help you. Your ID should be with you at all times.
    • Keep a card with you that has your emergency contact written on the card. At least 3 emergency contacts should be clearly printed on a contact card and kept with you at all times. 
    • When volunteering for Rescue Japan you must maintain a water proof Wallet/packet. We suggest placing copies of your passport or ID, the health insurance card you maintain in Japan and your emergency contact card within the water proof packet, with a strap around your neck and then shove it into a top pocket. Keep it at all times when you are in a disaster zone. It’s your choice to carry the actual documents, but we always suggest at least copies placed on you at all times. 

Scams In Relief Work

Now comes the ugly part. Always keep your eyes open for some of the despicable actions of people trying to take advantage of the situation. Believe it or not Disasters bring out the best of people but also brings out the worst. In Tohoku we heard of reports of theft, scamming, rapes and other intolerable behavior amongst domestic residents. Mainly gangs in the area. We even heard of AID being held in return for favors. 

  • Nothing to worry about, it was all reported. However, being a volunteer means you are also the eyes and ears for good. If you are a witness to abuse, a scam, or a situation that can possibly bring harm to another person, report it immediately. Get help. Don’t think its normal. Don’t assume it’s not your problem. Gather as much info and Report it. Otherwise you are as guilty as the person committing the wrong-doing. 
  • We have a vetting process for Temporary Evac-shelters to make sure they are accepting AID to share with their community and not just looking to horde supplies for themselves. Beware of scams. Twitter(X) is filled with them. 
  • We also have a rule to tag along randomly to drop off points to see how effective their operation is. And our drivers are an excellent source of intel when traveling to and from disaster areas. 
  • Tell your donors to beware of organizations asking for donations who are not credible and cannot prove their participation in relief work. Or cannot prove where they are dissolving monetary donations. Transparency is vital for NPOs.



Keep checking this guide as updates will come frequently.
Volunteer with responsible measures and thinking.
And stay safe.


This is a list of Government Supported Evacuation Centers: Click Here

This is a 51 page list of Non-Government Supported Shelters Temporary shelters): Click Here

This is a Evacuation Center App: Click Here (This is not in English)

Nippon News Network: Handling Infectious Disease
Translated using Google. 

You can register to be a volunteer with Rescue Japan here:
Keep Checking this Guideline as updates will come.

Posted by Dwayne Wayne: