Japan doesn't have as many volunteer opportunities as some other Asian countries. However, there are positions out there for those who look. One of the most popular options is provided by World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms Japan (www.wwoofjapan.com). This organisation places volunteers on organic farms around the country and provides participants with a good look at Japanese rural life and the running of an organic farm. It's also a great chance to improve your Japanese-language skills.
Alternatively, you can look for volunteer opportunities once you arrive. There are occasional ads for volunteer positions in the various English-language journals in Japan. Word of mouth is also a good way to search for jobs. Hikers, for example, are sometimes offered short-term positions in Japan's mountain huts.
Japan is an interesting place to live and work for a year or two and you'll find expats in all the major cities doing just that. Teaching English is still the most common job for Westerners, but bartending, hostessing, modelling and various writing-editorial jobs are also possible. Note that it is illegal for non-Japanese to work in Japan without a proper visa.
The key to success is doing your homework and presenting yourself properly. You will definitely need a sharp outfit for interviews, a stack of meishi (business cards) and the right attitude. If you don't have a university degree, you won't be eligible for most jobs that qualify you for a work visa. Any qualification, such as an English-teaching certificate, will be a huge boost.
Finally, outside of the entertainment, construction and English-teaching industries, you can't expect a good job unless you speak fluent Japanese.
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