I just got back from a meeting of the Peace Boat N.P.O. here in Tokyo. Starting this Friday and continuing for some time after that, they'll be sending groups of volunteers for week-long stints aiding in distribution of food and supplies to refugees in the Sendai area. If you read Japanese, a great deal of information is available at http://volunteer.n-da.jp/.
This post is intended to provide a quick outline of this opportunity to help out. First it should be said that you might not be a good candidate if you a) can't speak at least passable intermediate Japanese and b) don't have considerable experience with camping or otherwise roughing it under extreme conditions. If after reading this you think you would be able to help, there will be a further orientation at the Peace Boat HQ in Takadanobaba on the 29th. The time hasn't been decided, but I'll update people via the Tokyo Quake Cleanup group and my twitter. The group going this Friday will be too soon for most people, in part because of the preparation needed.
The Peace Boat volunteer coordinators made it clear that conditions are pretty extreme. People, including rescue and relief workers, are living in cars and in the second floors of buildings whose first floor collapsed. Peace Boat volunteers are camping outdoors, on the grounds of an elementary school. It's also still very cold in Sendai, making this situation even tougher. Because of the difficulty of the conditions, as well as the possibly traumatic nature of seeing what's going on up-close, they're limiting most volunteers to one-week rotations, although they will be encouraging those able to go more than once. There is plenty of work to do in Tokyo for those who can't make it to the North, such as collecting donations and sorting and packaging relief goods (I gather most of the groups of young, cheerful kids collecting donations around Tokyo starting last week are Peace Boat affiliated).
Because there are still basically no services to the north (no power, very little petrol), anyone interested in helping needs to be able to be totally self-supporting for a week at a time. The last thing anyone needs are volunteers who themselves need help. (The one exception was water, which it seemed is supplied – but only a moderate amount for drinking). This is not a complete list, but you will need to have:
-Your own tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat (Obviously, groups can share)
-Heavy-duty footwear (Trekking shoes or boots) and multiple changes of clothes appropriate to the conditions (i.e. cold and dirty).
-Eyeglasses, Goggles, or Sunglasses – contact lenses can't be changed or worn under the prevailing conditions
-At least 20,000 yen in cash for one week
-One week worth of food, preferably that doesn't require cooking. If you bring dehydrated food or other stuff that needs hot water, please also bring your own camp stove.
-Writing materials (notebook, ballpoint pen)
-Toilet Paper and Wet-naps – water for washing hands will not be available.
-Toiletries (toothbrush etc), Flashlight, and any necessary medicine
You may also want: work gloves, knife, screwdriver, pliers
-The Peace Boat people weren't explicit about it, but as I've mentioned elsewhere, I think it would be a good idea to get a tetanus shot before going into the area.
Peace Boat does also offer (and may require, I'm not sure) a health and life insurance plan for volunteers, running to about 2000 yen for a week.
Again, more information will be available at an orientation on the 29th. The best way to make sure you get the information is to either join the Facebook group Tokyo Quake Cleanup or follow this blog - I'll be sure to post it to both locations. And again, they are (quite understandably) not particularly well-equipped to deal with non-Japanese speakers at this point. However, the trip leaving next Friday is expected to have at least some bilingual volunteers who would probably be able to help out a bit.