Volunteer Info

Important! Most of the info on this page applies to our Phase I procedure, which has changed now that we’re in Phase II. We don’t seem to need volunteers at our slower pace, but aren’t sure yet. For now, we’re leaving this page as-is so you can see what it means to volunteer. The dates shown are correct. If you’d like to be on call, please leave a comment at the bottom. We’ll update this page soon when we see how the first few trips go. Thanks for your interest!

Many people far from Sano have asked how they can help Socks for Japan directly. They’re willing to make the trip, they say, and just want to know when to come, how to get here, and what we need.

If you’re such a person and would like to give us a hand, please read this entire page.

We process socks in Sano on weekdays from 5:30 pm, Saturdays and Sundays from 9 am. We usually distribute in the disaster zone on Wednesdays and Sundays, departing Sano at 3 am, trying to return by midnight. We sometimes go on other days of the week if events or demand justify doing so. We can take four or five people at a time in our HiAce van (plus 10,000 pairs of socks). Note that we are winding down phase one, so our processing times are no longer as regular. We’ll let you know what’s happening when you’re in town.

Almost every volunteer traveling from far away wants to distribute socks to survivors. With limited seat availability and our policy of granting first priority to sock processing volunteers, however, we can’t accommodate everybody’s desire. In the list below, blank spaces indicate seats available for volunteers (none currently).
When we were active, the list of upcoming distributions appeared here. After we completed each one, we moved it to the list below. Our final distribution was on the one-year anniversary, March 11, 2012, and was very moving. Report on the way.

Past distributions:

3/11/12 Sat: Jason and Takako to Ishinomaki and Onagawa
10/17 Mon: Adam, Jason, Makiko to Ishinomaki and Onagawa
10/08 Sat: Jason, Rumiko to Ishinomaki
7/06 Wed: Akina, Jason, Rumiko to Ishinomaki and Onagawa

Trumpets! We distributed our 150,000th pair on July 6!

7/02 Sat: Jaime, Jason, Kaho, Naoko M, Takuya to Watari/Yamamoto (plus cranes)
6/29 Wed: Jason, Kaho, Miwa, Naoko M to Oshika-hanto (plus cranes)
6/25 Sat: Hiroyuki, Jason, Sarah, Takako to Watari-cho
6/22 Wed: Jason, Rich, Takako to Higashi Matsushima
6/19 Sun: Anindya, Jason, Rich, Takako to Rikuzentakata
6/15 Wed: Hanna, Jason, Shawn, to Ishinomaki and Higashi Matsushima
6/11 Sat: Jason, Rumiko, Shawn, Tatsuya to Tagajo
6/08 Wed: Hanna, Jason, Sayaka, Shawn, Yoshiko to Ishinomaki
6/04 Sat: Jason, Kirsten, Rumiko, Sachiyo to Onagawa and Oshika-hanto

Trumpets! We distributed our 100,000th pair on June 4!

6/01 Wed: Dan, Hiroko, Jason, Joe, Rumiko to Watari and Yamamoto
5/29 Sun: Asuka, Jason, Joe, Roger, Siena to Minami Sanriku
5/25 Wed: Jason, Joe, Naoko I, Shufang, Stuart to Onagawa
5/21 Sat: Jason, Jose, Miwa, Rumiko to Ishinomaki and Higashi Matsushima
5/18 Wed: Hashim, Hiroyuki, Jason, Shanta, Yuya to Ishinomaki
5/14 Sat: Asuka, Jason, Siena to the Osaki Nanohana refugee festival
5/11 Wed: Adrian, Jason, Rumiko to Ishinomaki and Oshika-hanto
5/08 Sun: Atsushi, Jason, Kiku, Rumiko to Higashi Matsushima
5/04 Wed: Jason, Sachiyo, Takako, Toshiaki to Ofunato
5/01 Sun: Hiroko, Jason, Miwa, Takako to Minami Sanriku
4/27 Wed: Jason, Morio, Nae, Yukie to Higashi Matsushima and Ishinomaki
4/24 Sun: Asuka, Jason, Sachiyo, Siena to Ishinomaki
4/20 Wed: Jason, Rumiko to Natori and Iwanuma
4/17 Sun: Jason, Rumiko, Tatsuya to Kesennuma
4/13 Wed: Jason, Miwa, Yoshiko to Rikuzentakata and Kesennuma
4/10 Sun: Asuka, Jason, Siena to Ishinomaki and Onagawa
4/07-08 Thu/Fri: Asuka, Jason to Ishinomaki
4/05 Tue: Jason, Rumiko to Shichigahama
4/02 Sat: Jason, Joss, Takako to Yamamoto-cho
3/31 Thu: Jason, Joss, Takako to Watari-cho
3/27 Sun: Jason, Rumiko to Iwaki
3/21 Mon: Jason, Yoshiko to Kitaibaraki

To join a distribution, you need to arrive in Sano two days prior. We don’t want to meet you for the first time in our parking lot at 2:45 am, nor do we want a frantic phone call from you at 10:30 pm the night before, informing us of your travel challenges and asking for our help when we’re trying to sleep before the trip. Such unprofessional behavior makes our job harder, not easier.

To join a Wednesday distribution, you must arrive in Sano on Monday, stay that night, process socks on Tuesday so you understand what a special inventory you’ll distribute the next day, help load the van, get to bed early Tuesday night, then leave with us early Wednesday. Part of working a distribution is helping us prepare for it and then getting enough sleep before our early departure so you’re not dragging all day. When you show up just in time for a free ride to the disaster zone, toting your camera, sleeping half the day, casually passing out care packages you did nothing to help prepare — you’re a tourist, not a volunteer.

If you can’t manage this schedule, you can’t join a distribution.

We don’t help with travel planning nor reimburse expenses. Please use resources at your disposal to get yourself to Sano.

We negotiated discount prices for our volunteers at two hotels in Sano, each a short walk from Sano Station. When making a reservation at either, be sure to mention that you’re a Socks for Japan volunteer:

Hotel Sano Inn
Phone 012-024-1228
4,000 yen per night, no cleaning service or meals

Hotel Sunroute Sano
Phone 028-324-5000
5,000 yen per night, includes cleaning but no meals
5,500 yen per night, includes cleaning and breakfast

If we don’t confirm that you can join us on a distribution, you’ll work at our sock processing base per our set schedule, and possibly daytime on weekdays if we have enough people available to warrant opening. You can see photos of that work in our report, Angels of the Earth.

For a distribution, you’ll meet at our base or your hotel at 2:45 am, drive 5-7 hours into the disaster zone, help announce to people that we have socks and care letters, help distribute the socks and care letters, then return to Sano late that night or early the next morning. A typical day sees us distribute about 5,000 pairs of socks, but that varies and so does the method by which we distribute. Sometimes we visit shelters, other times neighborhoods, other times schools, and still other times military distribution points.

You should know that the mood on distributions varies dramatically. It’s often heartbreaking, with volunteers and survivors crying, people going silent for long periods, and so on. It’s occasionally fun when even survivors joke about the situation or we ask people goofy questions like, “Did you remember your point card?” or “Can you read Japanese?” or “How many husbands do you have?” — the latter being a funny slip-up in Japanese and also a play on a woman telling us she needs socks for multiple men, such as her son, her brother, and her neighbor. It’s wonderful when a whole group of survivors breaks out in rolling laughter for the first time in a long time.

Spend some time reading our reports. If you’re going on a distribution, prepare for a long, emotional day with unpredictable results. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

Still interested? Use the comment section below to let us know what you’re planning. We’ll reply to you, and update the info above to reflect FAQs.

Thank you!


  1. Liz
    Posted May 27, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    Are you still collecting socks?

    • Posted May 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

      Just ones that were collected as part of an effort that began prior to our May 16 deadline. Please see our post-deadline FAQ.

  2. Kim K. Roberts
    Posted June 3, 2011 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

    I teach Japanese in high school here in the States (having taught for 3 years in Utsunomiya in the ’80s), and have been wanting to come & help. I know your distributions are scheduled to end soon, but I just keep thinking that my language skills should be of some assistance during a time like this. Do you know of other organizations that are taking volunteers, if you can’t use my help? My speaking skills are stronger than my reading (of course!), and I could come end of July/early August for a week or so.

    • Leslie Sakaguchi
      Posted June 4, 2011 at 1:52 am | Permalink

      Hi Kim:

      Just an FYI, if Socks for Japan is booked-out with volunteers and you are interested in helping animals, I have heard of an organization that is going into the affected areas to rescue and care for animals that cannot be cared for because they lost their homes, were separated from, or their families can no longer care for their beloved pets. It is called JEARS (jears.org) and I understand they may be looking for volunteers who can speak Japanese. I am not in any way affiliated with JEARS (or with SfJ), but like with Socks for Japan, I follow them and am deeply moved by how impactful their work is and am amazed at how quickly and efficiently such grass-roots organizations can get things DONE. Not that larger orgs have ill intent, but sometimes it seems as if the “smaller guys” really have the advantage in getting directly to and helping those who most need the help, and more importantly, who need to feel like they, as individuals, still matter. Whatever you decide, bless you for being willing to give your time!

      Warm regards,

    • Posted June 5, 2011 at 6:57 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Kim! We’re working on the phase-two schedule to follow our June 22 distribution. I’ll get back to you when we’ve firmed it up. Others are waiting for that info, too.

  3. Hanna Miyake
    Posted June 5, 2011 at 11:39 pm | Permalink

    Hello, I am interested in your organization. I am staying in Tochigi-shi until mid July, and I would love to help. I grew up in the U.S. and Japan and speak fluent English and Japanese.
    I’m available to do whatever is most needed, so please let me know.
    Hope to hear from you soon!

    • Posted June 6, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

      In Tochigi? Wow, that’s convenient! We can use you right away. We’re preparing an 11,000-pair delivery for Wednesday and would like your help tonight, tomorrow, and on the distribution if you can make it. Hotel Sunroute has rooms available. Please let me know where you can fit in asap. I’ll email you directly, too.

  4. Jaime Brown
    Posted June 8, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Hi there, I couldn’t find a place to contact you directly, so I am trying to write here. I have been living in Sano for the past year as an ALT. I would really like to Join you one of the weekends you are going up North to deliver supplies. I was looking for ways to volunteer and my friend Asuka said she went with you, and it was a great program. I am an art teacher back in the states, and my students folded 1,000 origami cranes, and I would like the chance to give them to someone who could use their spirit lifted. The cranes were originally intended to go to Hiroshima. But I think with current events, this is a better use of them, and my choice of travel. I want to help where I can before I have to leave next month. I see there is an opening on the 19th, and I am interested in joining you. Please let me know if I can help you. I also have a friend (also an ALT in Sano) who is interested in helping.

    • Posted June 9, 2011 at 7:47 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Jaime. I received your direct note and will reply to you directly, as well. Yes, Asuka has joined us and so has Joss, another ALT in town. I’m looking forward to meeting you.

  5. Rich Solaski
    Posted June 10, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi Jason and crew, I have been truly impressed and amazed at what you are doing and all that you have accomplished. About five years ago I traveled/backpacked around Japan and lived in Kobe and Miyoshi for a brief bit. We started a socks program here but unfortunately it was just before the announced wind down and we could only get one box off to you. I would love to come to Sano and help. I would gladly do whatever is needed and would like to go on a distribution run as well. Currently my schedule is flexible so if needed I could be there as soon as Friday the 17th (possibly the 16th but not sure yet). Please let me know what you think. If phone is better for detailed contact I have no problem calling at an appropriate time. Thanks for even considering having people come from afar to help. – Rich

    • Posted June 10, 2011 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

      We’re locked down for Saturday’s distribution, but I’ll get back to you quickly after we return, Rich. I appreciate your eagerness to help and would like to get you into the schedule. More soon!

  6. Dom
    Posted September 3, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    If you still have socks left, there are occasionally people looking for them on Agemasu, a site for earthquake victims to request items that they are in need of. http://agemasu.jp/-/n/

    • Posted September 29, 2011 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Dom. We’re going to distribute all of ours directly to survivors ourselves. We won’t waste a single pair of socks or one care letter.

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