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Sado Island is Japan’s 6th largest island and on the list to become a UNESCO heritage site. It has a dynamic landscape of dramatic ocean cliffs, dense forests, rice fields and crystal clear water. When they found gold on Sado Island in 1601, the island flourished and developed a unique cultural heritage. This includes performing arts, the world-famous Taiko drumming, puppet theater and folklore festivals. Sado has hundreds of preserved Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, and several villages from the Edo Period (1603-1867)
This unique volunteer program works in partnership with the local government of Sado since 2019. The goals of the program are to:
Conservation of the Crested Ibis
The Crested Ibis (“Nipponia nippon”) is a remarkable bird that was once common in Japan and China. Yet, their populations declined because of the loss of natural habitats and industrial agriculture. In 2002, there were only around 150 Nippon Ibises left worldwide and the last one died in Japan in 2003.
Japan, in cooperation with the Chinese government, launched an acclaimed reintroduction program on Sado Island in 2008. They brought crested Ibises from China and bred them in captivity for release. They observed the first hatchings in the wild in 2012, and today there are around 440 ibises on Sado Island.
Environmental organizations and Japanese universities conduct conservation work and research on Sado Island.
Several environmental organizations, which often cooperate with Japanese universities, are active on Sado Island. You can regularly take part in various activities of these organizations. This includes monitoring Crested Ibises, finding nests and counting eggs, working on biotopes, as well as preparing and conducting environmental events and campaigns. In addition, we regularly visit sites of biological or geological interest in Sado, such as the public Crested Ibis Breeding and Research Center.
Preservation of Ogura Rice Fields
They built and cultivated the Ogura rice fields on steep slopes during the 17th century. Today, the traditionally managed terraced rice fields are not only an attractive site for visitors to Sado, but they also prevent landslides and are feeding grounds to the Crested Ibis. You can join the farmers on most weekends. They plant rice in April and harvest it in October. During other months, volunteers help maintain an ancient irrigation system. This includes fortifying the rim of the paddy fields with soils to prevent the water from flowing.
Preservation of the Koninji temple
Help with the preservation of the temple’s historic buildings and its traditional temple garden. The monk’s mother is the primary caretaker of the temple, so there are always tasks that can assist her. Japanese youth groups also visit the temple to volunteer, and you can join their activities.
Collecting herbs in the forest
Volunteers can help a small company collect wild herbs and leaves from the forest. You will work with local experts and learn to process herbs and leaves into tea blends.
Bamboo workshops with school children
Assist a Brazilian carpenter and artist arrange creative bamboo workshops for local schoolchildren. The children create musical instruments, toys, or playground equipment from this material. Bamboo is a fast growing sustainable material that can replace plastic in many applications. As a volunteer, the artist will teach you how to build objects from bamboo and sometimes Japanese youth groups join the handcraft workshops. You will also be able to practice English conversation with them.
Volunteers will help preserve the stunning Chokokuji Temple. Built in the year 807, it is the largest temple complex of Sado. The site has unique cultural treasures, such as ancient statues and trees, to which they attribute spiritual powers. Hundreds of rabbits live on the site to keep the grass short. Volunteer assignments include maintenance work, light gardening, and activities with visiting student groups. The monk will tell volunteers interesting stories about the history of the temple and Buddhism.
Local farmers in Sado Island plant and cultivate kakis, oranges, kiwis, shiitake mushrooms and bamboo. At various locations, you can help with these activities and learn about principles of agriculture and forestry in Japan.
Beach and nature cleanups
Every week, volunteers clean up a section of the beach or other natural environment. This is usually done as a competition between a few teams, and the one that collects the most trash or a certain type of trash wins a prize. During the summer, families who are camped out at Sobama Beach often take part in this.
Community Work and Cultural Immersion
Volunteers can take part in activities that benefit aging rural communities in Japan, such as restoring abandoned houses called akiyas. The countryside has seen a decrease in population, leading to many empty buildings, with some villages having up to 80-90% abandoned houses. In Matsugasaki, volunteers are helping to conserve the memory of the traditional handcraft of the last blacksmith by turning his workshop into an exhibition space. Volunteers also visit a countryside after-school club to do presentations on various topics, including their own country and environmental issues. The program regularly offers workshops and presentations on traditional local culture, such as playing the noh flute, taiko drumming, and kyogen theater play.
Internet: Wi-Fi is available for no extra cost.
Laundry: Volunteers can use coin-operated washing machines for 300 JPY peruse. Washing powder/liquid is at your own expense.
Accommodations: During your first 3 days in Tokyo, you will stay in a shared dorm for up to 8 people. Hostel amenities include: shared bathrooms, AC, rooftop terrace, and a common area with a fully equipped kitchen. Within walking distance to any necessary stores, restaurants, a shopping mall with a food court, and easy access to attractions in Tokyo.
On Sado Island, the volunteer base is at the stunning Koninji Temple near the southern tip of Sado Island. Built in 811, it is situated amongst forested hills and rice terraces. The sandy beaches of the southwest coast are located nearby, including the popular and traditional Tarai Bune boat trips. As a volunteer, you will stay at the temple’s historic guest house in one of the following rooms (allocated based on availability):
Japanese tatami rooms (single, double or 4-share occupancy), sleeping on a traditional futon
Western twin/double bedrooms (for single or double occupancy)
Furnished large tents (for 1-4 people) set outdoors in the lush gardens of the temple grounds. If you stay in the tented accommodation, you will use the bathroom and showers of the guest house.
*We aim to have the same gendered rooms (not always guaranteed).
*Double/twin/single rooms cost extra, see fees below.
Food: On Sado Island, volunteers receive freshly cooked and catered breakfast, lunch and dinner each day. The food is Japanese style and they can cater to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free diets.