updated october 2013–there are still ways to volunteer in tohoku!
these suggestions are mainly aimed at people who would prefer volunteering with some english support–since if you can read and/or speak japanese you can find many volunteer organizations/activities.
if you are in japan, and looking for a place to volunteer in tohoku directly, as an individual or small group, my no. 1 recommendation for english-speaking folks is it’s not just mud, in ishinomaki (if you speak japanese that’s no problem either!). they are working directly in the local community, on the ground, for the long term. you can also support them with donations!
for the first year after the tsunami nikkei youth network supported volunteers opportunities for international students through gakuvo (japanese link) student volunteers, but this program has ended. through support from the nippon foundation, gakuvo has been dispatching student groups since soon after the disaster, and since the beginning, nikkei youth network has been supporting international students to join these missions. gakuvo and international student volunteers worked in ishinomaki, karakuwa (near kesennuma) and tono (as a base for work in rikuzentaka, otsuchi cho, ofunato).
magokoro net in tono is also committed to long term support, and you can volunteer with them even if you don’t speaking perfect japanese, although speaking some japanese is more necessary that with the first 2 groups above. magokoro net has also recently introduced a bus (you need to pay, not too much) between tokyo and their base in tono, to make it easier to volunteer with them.
peace boat is another group that was on the ground very quickly, and they continue to dispatch volunteers, to ishinomaki. their volunteer activity is usually 1 weeks trip.
Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment.
another organization accepting volunteers is JEN, is a tokyo-based non-profit organization that usually supports the victims of disasters in other countries. from their mission statement:
“We put our utmost efforts into restoring a self-supporting livelihood both economically and mentally to those people who have been stricken with hardship due to conflicts and disasters.”
JEN is running soup kitchens and helping with mud removal from people’s homes, and accepting volunteers for both these tasks.
habitat for humanity continues to organize volunteer builds in iwate and miyagi prefecture. they post current calls for volunteers in the news section of their website: http://www.habitatjp.org/index_e.html
oga for aid is mainly involved in local farming activities in minami sanriku and accepts some volunteers. more information: http://www.ogaforaid.org/en/
saving minami soma has been delivering food and supplies from tokyo to minami soma since soon after the disaster. more info here: http://www.saveminamisoma.org/
foreign volunteers japan is a website and facebook group set up to provide information for non-japanese folks in japan who want to volunteer. really really great english resource–if you are interested in supporting japan and tohoku, you need to follow fvj!
in addition there are many ways that you support people in the disaster area, and volunteer where you are, in japan and outside japan. the volunteer orgs listed here can also use your donations.
in tokyo, one easy way to volunteer is with second harvest, an awesome food bank in tokyo, who has been supporting food delivery to tohoku since right after the tsunami and continue their inspirational work. hands on tokyo is another group that organizes bilingual volunteer opportunities, mostly in tokyo.
if you are outside japan, the best way for you to help is to raise funds and donate money to an organization working in the disaster area. my suggestions for good places to donate: