|by Michelle Baran||Volunteer Travel, Japan, Emergencies, Safety and Security||6|
It's been three months since the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, and as the country looks to rebuild there are several things that travelers can do to help.
For one, there are opportunities to actually, physically help. United Planet is a Boston-based, non-profit organization that matches travelers with short- and long-term volunteer projects around the world. The organization recently received a grant from The Japan Foundation to cover a portion of the costs to launch an international volunteer exchange program in Japan.
United Planet has already hired a country manager in Japan, Chie Goto, who is busy at work putting together the program, which will include a home stay with a local family, and will match volunteers with a relief project, such as teaching at a shelter, working at an orphanage, removing debris, and distributing food to shelters.
As part of the cultural exchange, volunteers will also have the opportunity to take Japanese language lessons, cooking classes, or learn martial arts, traditional dance, or Japanese calligraphy, depending on the volunteer's interests. There will also be sightseeing options.
"Now that we are moving past the emergency phase into the rebuilding phase in the Tohoku region [the northeastern area of Japan hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami], United Planet will begin to send volunteers very soon," said Dave Santulli, executive director of United Planet.
Separately, a group of 68 Americans, one of the largest groups of U.S. travelers to head to Japan since the March earthquake, recently returned from a trip deemed the "Flight of Friendship," intended to raise awareness and help jumpstart tourism to the country. The trip was organized by Sho Dozono, owner of Portland, Ore.-based Azumano Travel.
Another way to help is simply to go on a vacation to the island nation.
"A vast majority of Japan's regions and their tourism attractions have not been affected by the disasters at all and thus are completely prepared to welcome guests from around the world," Hiroshi Mizohata, commissioner of the Japan Tourism Agency, said in a statement following the natural disaster.
Six properties from The Leading Hotels of the World portfolio have come out with special breakfast-inclusive packages in Tokyo, Osaka and Hokkaido to help bring back business to Japan. They including the Imperial Hotel Tokyo with starting rates of $400 per night; the Hotel Okura Tokyo with starting rates of $535 per night; the Hotel Seiyo Ginza in Tokyo with starting rates of $420 per night ; the Imperial Hotel Osaka with starting rates of $300 per night; and The Windsor Hotel TOYA Resort & Spa on the island of Hokkaido with starting rates of $775 per night.
More from Budget Travel:
Budget Travel reader reaches out from Japan