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Mother Nature Conservation Camp and Temple Stay on Sado Island/Japan

Praktikum und Volunteering möglich
The 2023 season is still running until October 30, 2023. The 2024 season will be from June 10 to October 14, 2024. You can make your booking now! 
As a participant of our Mother Nature Environmental Conservation Camp Japan you will stay on the grounds of the beautiful historic Koninji Temple on Sado Island and volunteer in environmental conservation, especially for the protection of the Crested Ibis, and various farming activities. As part of local communities you will have the chance to get to know a piece of rural and traditional Japan, which is typically not accessible to you as a normal tourist or when staying at larger cities. Futhermore, on this program we also always have Japanese participants, which stimulates an exchange of culture and language.

Staying at Koninji Temple

Accommodation and base of our Mother Nature Conservation program in Japan is Koninji Temple near the southern tip of Sado Island. It was built in 811 by Buddhist monks and is attractively located in the midst of an impressive hilly landscape of dense forests, terraced rice fields and small orchards near the sandy beaches of the southwest coast and Ogi Port, which is a popular tourist attraction for the Tarai Bune traditional round boat trips.
Since the monk was promoted to head of his order in Kyoto in early 2020 and only visiting his temple for about a week each month, the temple is not regularly used for religious activities. His mother still lives in the temple though, not only taking care of the guests, but also looking after the gardens and the maintenance of the historical buildings. As a volunteer, you can help her with these activities around the temple.
At the temple's historic guest house from 1843, you can choose between Japanese tatami rooms (single, double or 4-share occupancy), sleeping on a traditional futon, or western twin/double bedrooms (for single or double occupancy), or fully furnished large tents (for 1-4 people) set outside in the beautiful gardens of the temple grounds. In case of the tented accommodation, you would use the sanitary installation of the guest house. The meals for guests (Japanese food) are freshly cooked and delivered every day.

How can you get involved as a volunteer?

As a volunteer, together with Japanese volunteers, you will participate in a variety of activities for which our volunteer coordinator creates a weekly plan of activities.
(Click on the activity to read more and see pictures!)
The 80 years old monk's mother takes care of the preservation of the temple's historic buildings and its grounds which have an ornamental garden and fruit trees. There is always something to do that you can help her with. Japanese youth groups also regularly visit the temple to help and you can join their activities.
A small company from Sado collects wild herbs and tree leaves in the forest to use them for the preparation of herbal tea blends. Volunteers of our program accompany the herbal experts into the forest, help them with gathering the herbs and will get explanations. In the company's premises, you can then learn and help to clean, dry and grind the herbs and leaves and process them into herbal tea blends. As a souvenir you can take your own tea blend with you. Another lady who is passionate about traditional local herbs is providing workshops as part of our program where we learn how to make herbal insect repellent, herbal juice, gyoza with herbal filling and toothpaste made from charcoal and herbs.
A Brazilian carpenter and artist specialising in bamboo who lives in Sado is regularly arranging creative workshops using bamboo for our volunteers, sometimes joined by Japanese youth groups. We will first learn how to make cups and chopsticks. If you stay for a longer time and you join the workshop several times, you can build more complicated items such as furniture, musical instruments, toys or playground equipment from bamboo. Bamboo is an extremely fast growing raw material that can replace plastic and other less sustainable materials in a variety of applications. Unfortunately nowadays, bamboo hardly plays a role as a building material in Japan anymore. From April to June, bamboo shoots are also collected in forests that are used in primary school canteens for food.
Several environmental organizations, which often cooperate with Japanese universities, are active on Sado Island. You can regularly participate in various activities of these organizations, which include 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.
Once per week we are cleaning a piece of beach or other nature. We usually do this as a competition between several teams whereby the winning team (that collects the largest amount of trash or a type of trash that is worst) wins a little prize. During the summer months, families who are staying at the Sobama Beach Campsite are sometimes joining this. Most trash we find is ghost fishing gear, construction materials such as plastic pipes and cables, and other plastic. The trash we collect is picked up by the municipal trash collection company.
World Unite! is part of the rice farming community of Ogura. The terraced rice fields were built on steep slopes in the 17th century and can therefore only be worked by hand or with small hand-held machines, which makes their operation not commercially profitable. They are only maintained to prevent landslides and as a food source for the Crested Ibis. You can join the farmers, for whom the terraced ricefields are just a sideline, every weekend. Rice is planted in April and harvested in October. During other months, the irrigation system, which includes a canal bringing water from a 17th-century water reservoir to the ricefields, needs to be checked and repaired. The edges of the paddy fields need to be fortified regularly with certain soils to keep the water on the fields.
Sado has many historic temples and shrines. For instance, Chokokuji Temple, built in the year 807 is the largest temple complex of Sado and known for its national cultural treasures such as statues from the 10th-12th centuries as well as its gigantic historical trees, to which spiritual powers are attributed. As a volunteer, there are regular assignments in the temple complex such as building maintenance work, light gardening and activities with student groups who are visiting. The monk will tell volunteers interesting stories about the history of the temple and Buddhism in general.
In addition to rice, the farmers of Sado also plant kakis (persimmons), oranges, kiwis, shiitake mushrooms and other fruits and vegetables. The forests of the area are also managed. Bamboo and other trees are cut for the wood to be used as building material and new trees are regularly planted.
We work with various farmers that are doing organic farming that can explain you about their principles and you help them on their farms. For instance one farmer holds ducks on the ricefield that would eat potential pests, instead of using chemical pesticides.
Once per week we have a session about topics related to the ocean and climate, e.g. impact of industrial farming on climate change, overfishing, sharks, etc. You will then be given small research tasks on the topic whereby you for instance have a look at farming practices carried out on Sado or you have a small talk with local fishermen. There will then be a follow-up session where you discuss your findings with our lecturer. The lectures and follow-up sessions might be carried out remotely using zoom and projected on a screen at the temple.
We are regularly doing activities from which aging rural communities benefit, e.g.working on akiyas. Akiyas are abandonded houses. Due to the decreasing population of the Japanese countryside, there are many abandonded houses. Some villages have some 80-90% of abandoned buildings. For instance in the village of Matsugasaki, there is the abandonded workshop of Sado's last blacksmith who has passed away. The remaining villagers want to conserve the memory of the traditional handcraft by making the workshop a small exhibition space. Volunteers of our program were cleaning up the building and working on the exhibition. Volunteers are also going to a countryside afterschool club and doing presentations for the children, e.g. about their own country or about environmental topics. We also regularly arrange workshops and presentations of traditional local culture, such as learning to play the noh flute, taiko drumming and kyogen theater play.
On the weekends (or if you get involved in the ricefarming activities of Ogura on weekends, on some weekdays en lieu) there are usually no volunteering activities, but we arrange group recreational activities such as going to the beach, hiking, and sightseeing for a small extra cost. You can decide locally if you want to join.

About the Crested Ibis

The Crested Ibis ("Nipponia nippon") is a bird with a size of 54-88 cm and a wingspan of 140 cm, which until the onset of industrial agriculture in the mid-20th century was relatively common in Korea, China, Japan and parts Russia, but is now threatened with extinction by losing its habitats. In 2002 there were only around 150 Nippon Ibises left worldwide. In Japan, the species was completely wiped out. The last Nippon Ibis of Japan died in 2003.
As a result, the government of Japan, in cooperation with the Chinese government, launched an internationally recognized reintroduction program on Sado Island, where Crested Ibises from China were bred in captivity and released since 2008. The first hatchings in the wild were observed in 2012. Today there are again around 440 ibises on Sado Island, some of which were even spotted on the neighboring main island of Honshu.
Essential for the survival of birds in the wild are the presence of suitable habitats. This includes traditional rice farming methods and the design of paddy fields including zones where the birds can feed throughout the year, as well as biotopes optimised as feeding and breeding grounds for the ibis. The inclusion of Sado rice farmers and the promotion of traditionally grown, high quality organic rice from Sado Island have been crucial to the success of the reintroduction program.

Did you know?

For the CO2 compensation of your long-haul flights, we plant 10 seedlings of native trees on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.
Info Box
infoboxheader01 3 en
Location: Sado Island, Japan
Availability: 2023: arrival and departure every Monday and Friday; 2024: only Mondays
Minimum duration: 1 week
Maximum duration: 4-24 weeks depending on visa
Language requirements: English
Other languages of advantage: Japanese
Accommodation: Koninji Temple in Hamochihongo, Sado Island
infoboxheader02 3 en
Supervision possible: Yes
Qualification Supervisor: Biologist
Minimum Qualification Intern:
no formal qualification required
Further project contribution: No
Volunteering possible: Yes
Expected Qualification Volunteer: None
Further project contribution: No
We expect:
Professional work attitude, "the right attitude"

I. World Unite! Service Package

Program Activities and Accommodation
First week 625 EUR. Any additional week +330 EUR. From the 10th week only +295 EUR/week.

This includes:

  • Participation in all program activities (offered on 7 days/week)
  • Orientation and Introduction atKoninji about the program activities
  • Transfers for all program activities on Sado Island
  • Accommodation in 4-share Japanese tatami room or 4-share tent (you choose) [Single/Double occupancy possible at extra charge, see below]
  • Full board (3 meals per day) incl. unlimited drinking water and tea
  • Access to the World Unite! Online Resource Centre which has Preparation Materials including Intercultural Preparation, compiled particularly for your destination (mobile phone friendly Knowledge Base)
  • Individual Consultation and Preparation prior to your arrival
  • Preparation Session via Skype, together with further participants
  • Support with the travel from Tokyo to Sado by our Tokyo team
  • Pick-up and Transfers from/to Sado (Ryotsu) Ferry Terminal on arrival and departure to/from Mother Nature Camp Sado
  • Personal support staff at your location and at our international office
  • 24 Hours emergency support by local support team
  • For the CO2 compensation of your long-haul flights: Costs for 10 seedlings of indigenous trees that we plant on the slopes of Kilimanjaro
  • Issuance of Confirmations/Certificates for your university, scholarship, insurance, etc. and filling out/signing Internship Contracts for your university

The Rates do NOT include:

  • Travel to/from Sado Island (you book it on your own; see details in the slider "Getting There" below)
  • Insurance (Travel Health Insurance, Liability Insurance, Travel Cancellation insurance; you book it on your own, we can assist you)
  • Personal Expenses
  • Vaccinations
  • Weekend leisure activities

II. Accommodation Costs

Surcharge twin occupancy at a tent* or 2-share tatami room* or Western double/twin room* (compared to 4-share tent/room): +60 EUR/week per person.
Surcharge single occupancy tent or Western/Japanese room (compared to 4-share tent/room): +100 EUR/week per person.
Children under 14 only pay 150 EUR/week.
* Participants not booking together will be separated by gender in the rooms
Sado Island, with 855 km2, is the sixth largest island of Japan. When gold was found on Sado Island in 1601, the island flourished economically and culturally, developing a unique and rich cultural heritage, including performing arts such as dance, chants and music, the world-famous Taiko drumming, puppet theater, folklore festivals, and traditional handcraft. Sado has hundreds of Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines and several historical villages from Edo Period (1603-1867), which have remained architecturally mostly intact.
The island is of extreme scenic natural beauty, with 288 km of rocky coastline, dense forests, terraced ricefields and a northern and southern mountain range reaching an altitude of 1172 meters. Sado is sparsely populated, with the vast majority of the population of around 55,000 living in Sado City in the flat middle part of the island. The island has an oceanic climate with hot and humid summers and cool, humid winters.
The last Crested Ibis of Japan, which is a symbolic national bird in Japan (Nipponia nippon) died in Sado in 2003 due to the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides on rice fields. Since then, an internationally renowned reintroduction program was successfully implemented in Sado, with birds from China being bred in captivity and released since 2008. The first hatchings in the wild were observed in 2012. Today there are again around 440 Crested Ibises on Sado Island. The integration of the Sado rice farmers and the promotion of traditionally farmed, high quality organic rice from Sado Island were essential in the success of the reintroduction program.
Sado Island has been working hard in recent years to boost tourism and has some interesting and modern landmarks, such as the Silver and Gold Mine, the Toki Park for breeding Crested Ibises and numerous hiking trails, natural sites and beaches. There are also tourist offers such as scuba diving, boat trips and more.
World Unite! is a cooperation partner of the Sado Island Tourism Association, whose office near the ferry port we share.
 getthere sado
You will be picked up by us at no additional cost on a Monday or Friday from the ferry ports of Sado (Ryotsu or Ogi Port) and also brought back to the ports on a Monday or Friday.
If you arrive in Narita or Haneda on a Friday before 9am you can travel on the same day to Sado via train to Niigata and ferry to Ryotsu Port. If you arrive before noon, you would have to take the route via Joetsu and ferry to Ogi port (total costs approx. 160 EUR/180 USD).
If you arrive later or on any other day of the week, you can book additional nights with us at the Sharehouse in Tokyo (1300 JPY/night in a dorm room) and travel to Sado on the following Friday or Monday. Optional pick-up from Narita or Haneda Airport on another day of the week +80 EUR/90 USD. You can also come to our Tokyo Sharehouse by public transport yourself.
Alternatively, you can also travel independently to Sado on any other day of the week. For the arrival or departure in Sado on a different weekday than Monday or Friday, we would charge an additional 80 EUR (90 USD) for the transfer from/to Ryotsu Port per vehicle and 20 EUR (22.50 USD) from/to Ogi Port. Additional nights in the project and program participation + 48 EUR/night (57 USD) on full board.
Niigata also has an airport.

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