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Volunteering at the Second Harvest Food Bank

The amount of food that is thrown away in Japan is virtually equivalent to the total amount of food aid distributed world-wide. Find out what you can do to help redirect this food to those who need it.

By 3 min read 4

Are you looking for a way to meet people, practice Japanese, try something new, and be a useful human? The Second Harvest Food Bank in Asakusabashi is always looking for fun outgoing volunteers to help with their food drive.

The First Food Bank in Japan

Second Harvest was organized in 2000 and earned official NPO status in 2002. Starting as a loose-knit group of like-minded people in Taito-ku, Second Harvest now collects food donations from over 400 companies, and distributes to 320 agencies, including women’s shelters, orphanages, homeless shelters, elderly support organizations, and various disaster relief programs. Second Harvest is a vital connection between the immense surplus of food and people needing food.

Food Loss

Japan has high standards for its food. Because of this, the annual food loss in this country comes in at a whopping 17.8 tons. (To give this figure some perspective, Japan produces five- eight tons of rice annually.).


Food Loss is the term for perfectly fresh or useable food that is discarded because it doesn’t meet certain standards for Japanese resale. Such as:

  • Packaging issues such as dented cans or damage to packaging and/or shipping cases.
  • Mislabeling of expiration dates and/or mistakes in legally stipulated label information.
  • Seasonal and limited edition products.
  • Excess inventory after bargains, sales or campaigns.
  • Expiration date: products with approaching dates can often not be sold in stores.
  • Products for which distribution is discontinued.
  • Excess inventory.
  • Over production / excess defective products / unanticipated bumper crops.
  • Emergency food supplies that have not expired.
  • Samples from exhibitions and special events.
  • Products that do not meet the 1/3 rule (when food is nearing expiration, it cannot be on the shelves in Japan).

Poverty Line

The poverty rate in Japan is 16%, and the rate for single-parent households is 50.8%. Forty percent of elderly people have a monthly income of ¥100,000 or less, and 30% of the elderly are housebound.


Knife Skills: Prepping the Ueno Park Soup Kitchen

A group of us from the school I teach for volunteered for a two-hour shift to prep food for the soup kitchen held every Saturday in Ueno Park. After a brief tour and explanation of how Second Harvest does its thing, we were put to work chopping vegis for the Saturday menu. All of the food is super fresh and high quality, which again, spoke to the amount of food loss in Japan. It’s an easy and meaningful way to spend two hours with your co-workers, and we’re hoping to organize a monthly outing.

What They Need (…what have you got?)

Time: Volunteer shifts last just over two hours. They have a variety of projects and need help in food prep, distribution, donation pick-ups, office work, and soup kitchen staff.

Money: Every ¥10,000 donated brings ¥30,000 of food to people who need it. Pretty simple.

Donations: Corporate, small business, and individual donations are always welcome. If you want to do some shopping for Second Harvest, here’s what they always need:

  • Rice and Pasta
  • Freeze-dried food and canned goods
  • Instant food, ready-made packs
  • Gift sets (gifts or souveniers such as Oseibo, Ochugen, etc.)
  • Cooking Supplies (miso, soy sauce, dashi, etc.)
  • Drinks (coffee, tea, juice)

Other ways: Are you a filmmaker? Photographer? Journalist? Social media master? Help get the word out about Second Harvest and put your talents to good use.

Second Harvest Japan
1F Mizuta Bldg. 4-5-1 Asakusabashi
Taito-ku, Tokyo, Japan 111-0053

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  • Tony says:

    Interesting article. Thanks for sharing. If I visit Japan again volunteering would be a good way of giving thanks for what I have by giving time and effort to those who need it.

    I the food loss section there is an error. It says ‘Japan produces five- eight tons of rice annually. I think the word ‘million’ is missing? 😉

  • papiGiulio says:

    Tokyo (the band) has a weekly show called Tokyo DASH in which they kindly ask farmers and other food producers if they can have some of their WASTE (food that was meant to be thrown away) and use it to make their own dinner. And the things they make with it in the end looks fantastic.

    Very good cause and I fully support this kind of movement.

    • Federica Marra says:

      Hi Giulio! (Italiano?)
      I’m part of the Slow Food Youth Network and I’ve been helping the SFYN Tokyo group to organize a Disco Veggie, an event where we prepared free lunch for 300 people in Koenji using fesh but bin-destined vegetables only (and Second Harvest Japan helped a lot lending us all their tools they use for the soup kitchens 🙂
      I’d like to have more information on the Tokyo DASH event…Do you know where I can find more about it?




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