Harry: Volunteering abroad helped me to understand Japanese culture

Harry took the chance to explore Japanese culture by participating in two cultural workcamps in the summer. He even learnt a little bit of traditional dancing. Read about his Japanese adventure.

Tokushima, Japan 2015 workcamp 2

Harry Lee got in touch with us after a recommendation from his cousin, Yan Ling. He wanted to incorporate a volunteer project in to his already-planned travels in Japan.


“I have always wanted to make a trip to Japan, I wanted to travel and volunteer and UNA Exchange just fits in everything. I contacted UNA Exchange, came in talked to them, asked them about how the workcamp works and what I need to prepare. I quite enjoy volunteering and actually did volunteering before in Malaysia for orphanage and in the UK as well. I found volunteering abroad very rewarding since I were able to help people and be closer to locals and understand their culture at the same time. That’s why I went to volunteer in two culture festivals in Japan this June.

Tokushima, Japan 2015 workcamp

Promoting global warming at the festival
The first project I went was called Tokushima festival. That was basically where locals came to sing and dance, ate together and watched the show. Our group of volunteers were part of this festival and we had our own stall and tried to promote global warming issues as well as helping around. We made posters and questionnaires on global warming and we participated in all other areas in festivals as well. In the mornings we helped to clean the festival area and gather all the rubbish and then we helped with daily festival tasks during the day. Some people came to the stall to ask about the global warming by themselves and we informed them what was global warming and how they can help to prevent it.  It was quite hard to communicate with locals, because they don’t all speak English and we had to ask the team leader or Japanese volunteers to translate. We were going around the festival and asking people to write down what they would they do to help with global warming on the piece of paper as a little wish, which we hang on the wish tree.  During free time we went up the mountains with the volunteers, walked around the city and also took the boat tours around the city in the night time I also tried to drive a cruise ship on my last days!

Dancing traditional Japanese dances
In my second project in Japan I helped to run the traditional Japanese dancing festival. It was not just one stage, the dance self-spread across the whole city. They had about six stages around the city and dances group rotates around the night. We helped to guide dancers, manage stages, boat tours for tourists and guiding people around. We also had a chance to participate the festival dance at night with the locals and volunteers. That was very interesting and little bit awkward, because obviously we didn’t know the dance. The local people and Japanese volunteer explained us a lot about their culture and dance. My general impression of Japanese culture was that people are very respectful and polite, especially the older generation. Younger generation was always really respectful to older generation and the politeness is really visible, they use lot of body language. I tried my best when I was there to follow their customs and when I came back to UK I really adopted this respectfulness to people.

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I was really excited to meet volunteers from different countries and talk to them about their experience and their motivation to come for the work camp. I actually expected the work to be much harder, but I found it a lot more enjoyable and fun. I enjoyed cooking with other people, it is always lot of fun because people have different ideas on what to cook and we tried to cook food from our countries such as Italian or Korean food.  With volunteers I met we kept in touch with an app called Line. Most people are from Japan a few from Taiwan and Russia and South Korea. I improved my skills to communicate with people who can’t speak English very well and finding new ways how to communicate, sign language, waving your hands and learning new phrases. I learned about different cultures from different volunteers. With other volunteers we had group meeting to talk about our countries and cities. 

12009557_10156028192110557_4606994855769826145_nWith volunteering you experience a lot more
During my projects in Japan I met lot of really great and interesting people. I loved the project so much because people were very kind and the experiences was amazing. I heard a lot from Japanese individuals that some don’t really like tourists due to language barrier but these local volunteers and local people I met have been really friendly and open-minded. I feel like nowadays Japan have definitely improve themselves to tourists and young generation is more open-minded and I met lot of people quite similar like me.

It was definitely quite hard work but at the same time you enjoy a lot more. You meet a lot more people you have a lot more memories with other people. If you speak with locals about their culture, they will explain you a lot more, they show you around and you experience a lot more.”