Adidas Bluff Lo - Fot Men Coupon_011 Farruq Fahlevi, left, and Muhamad Irvan Gustian, both from Indonesia, work on a farm harvesting cabbages in Ibaraki Prefecture. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)
Cover Story

Famous for its resistance to immigration, Japan opens its doors

Number of foreign workers doubles in five years as nation faces labor crisis

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"I've chosen the construction industry because the work involves lots of communication and helps improve my Japanese," Hoang said, in fluent Japanese. He eventually wants to work as a translator in Japan, and hopes that his fiancee will be able to join him there one day.

His employer, Nike Free Rn Flyknit Mens Photo Blue/Gamma Blue/Total Orange/Black Running Shoes V68280,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_458,Nike Shox Nz Mens Dark Grey/Anthracite/Black/Metallic Iron Running Shoes V49107,, said trainees like Hoang are indispensable for his company of 32. "Foreign trainees learn faster than Japanese," Maeda said. "They are more serious, more hardworking, and take fewer days off. They are keen to learn and work hard for money. Adidas Solar Boost Womens Bold Pink/Silver Metallic/Black Running Shoes V40734,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_501,Adidas Adizero Ubersonic Womens Frozen Yellow/White Tennis Shoes V54279,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Air Max 1 Womens Wolf Grey/Total Orange/Summit White/Team Red Running Shoes V98994,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_575,Nike Classic Cortez Womens White/Black/White Running Shoes V89106,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Vaneli Marise Black Nappa/Black Elastic Vietnamese trainee Dang Ngoc Hoang works at a building site in Tokyo. With Japan's construction workforce rapidly aging, new sources of labor are needed. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

The demand for construction workers is intensifying before the 2020 Olympics, Nike Juvenate Womens Deep Garnet/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V51641,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_629,Men's Nike Mercurialx Pro IC Black/Challenge Red/White/Metallic Gold UK#N5-8954,, the program has boomed in recent years -- and is one reason that the number of foreign workers in Japan has nearly quadrupled over the last decade.

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Without fanfare, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has steadily loosened Japan's once tightly controlled visa policy, resulting in an almost doubling of the number of foreign workers in Japan to 1.28 million over the last five years. In its latest move, Abe's government is expected to create a new class of  five-year work permits for unskilled workers in hopes of attracting more than 500,000 new overseas workers by 2025. The new guidelines, to be finalized in June, will ease language requirements for foreign workers in construction, Creative Recreation Junior Cesario Low XVI Trainer CP600,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_857,Creative Recreation Nursery Cesario Quilted Trainer CP756,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Jack & Jones Boxy Leed Loose Jeans Denim Jean CP888,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_891,EA7 Core Visibility Hooded Top CP1047,. "My government has no intention of adopting a so-called immigration policy," Abe said in February.

Yet the total number of foreign residents in Japan has grown 20% in the last three years, reaching 2.6 million in 2017, or 2% of the total population. In Tokyo, one in eight residents who came of age this year were foreigners.

"Anyone wandering around Japan, from Hokkaido to Tokyo to Okinawa, knows that there is growing diversity in schools and the workplace," said Jeff Kingston, a professor at Temple University Japan. "Vans Classic Hooded Top CP1185,New Balance Men Coupon_1007,Condemned Nation Merco PU Biker Jacket CP1301,."

Women's Essentials Zebra Tee Foreign workers have become a part of everyday life in Japan, yet public debate on immigration remains limited. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

While foreign workers are now part of everyday life in Japan -- making ready-to-eat foods in convenience stores, growing fruits and vegetables on farms and sorting packages for delivery companies -- public debate has been limited.Kings Will Dream Bomber Jacket CP1429,New Balance Men Coupon_1031,Good For Nothing Roll Neck Jumper CP1805,. As a result, Abe's position -- despite its apparent contradictions -- has faced no strong pushback from the public or politicians yet.

Many Japanese look at the deep divisions in the West over immigration and conclude that a more open policy should be avoided. Yet the steady relaxation of migration rules has not led to the social fissures seen elsewhere.

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With Japan facing its tightest labor market in decades, the business community would like Abe to go further. The unemployment rate stands at 2.5%, the lowest level in 25 years. There are now 1.59 jobs for every job seeker, the highest ratio since 1974.

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Given Japan's demographics -- it is the world's oldest advanced economy -- the labor shortage is only going to intensify. The nation's working-age population, defined as those aged between 15 and 64, is expected to decrease more than 40% to 45 million over the next 50 years. By contrast, those aged 75 or older, dubbed the "super-elderly," are projected to make up more than a quarter of the population.

Cabbages and car parts

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Among them is Kota Hirohara, 56, who raises cabbages on his small farm. On a recent May day, two Indonesian trainees were harvesting Hirohara's cabbages by hand with large nakiri, or vegetable knives. Hirohara says his farm is not big enough to need an expensive cabbage harvesting machine.

Women’s No.1 Full Zip Hoodie Indonesian trainees harvest cabbages at a farm in Ibaraki Prefecture. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

The two men, Muhamad Irvan Gustian and Farruq Fahlevi, both 21, can pick as many as 4,000 cabbages during their eight-hour workday. They also weed the fields, Nike SB Check Trainer CP4617,New Balance Women Coupon_1387,Nike SB Portmore Trainer CP4733,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Puma Suede Classic Trainer CP4915,New Balance 998 Women Coupon_1544,Under Armour SpeedForm Apollo Vent Trainers CP5055,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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Women's Running Windbreaker A Vietnamese worker checks autoparts at a Shigeru plant in Gunma Prefecture. (Photo by Ken Kobyashi)

The workers at Shigeru make instrument panels used in the Outback, Impreza and other models. The company hires Japanese part-timers in response to changes in demand, but Masayoshi Tabata, general manager, says foreign trainees are more dependable. "Part-timers quit when they find better-paying jobs. Trainees stay for three years."

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Trainees are discouraged from going back to their country before finishing the three-year term or from having a child, and they cannot bring their spouse on the visa.

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International pressure and media reports led to a law change in November 2017, allowing only certified organizations to participate in the trainee program. Criminal penalties were introduced for mistreatment of workers while a new government agency has been given a legal mandate to conduct random inspections. A whistleblower system has also been created that allows cases of abuse to be reported via email, a telephone hotline or a dedicated website. Most trainees have smartphones with them and have Wi-Fi access in their dormitories.

Fast-track system for tech workers

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Nike 3 Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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At Rakuten's Japanese headquarters in a Tokyo suburb, a quarter of its roughly 6,000 employees are foreigners. The company hires about 400 engineers every year, of which 70% are non-Japanese, mainly Indians and Chinese.

Rakuten's push for global talent began in 2009, Womens Boots Clarks Plaza City Brown,men's NIKE AIR MAX 2015 698902-002,Womens Sandals Clarks Sillian Wonder Black Synthetic,.

Men's Montreal Impact Anthem Jacket Foreign students attend a job fair in Tokyo. Japanese companies, including e-commerce player Rakuten, are increasingly looking for international talent. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

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Amit Agrawal, a 35-year-old engineer from India, is one of those who were hired by Rakuten.

"Most Japanese companies don't accept non-Japanese speakers. Rakuten is one of the companies that accept non-Japanese-speaking people," said Agrawal, who works in a massive open room that is almost entirely filled by foreign workers. Womens Sandals COACH Emily Black Semi Matte Calf,Men's Nike Shoe Jordan Westbrook 0 768934-405,Womens Shoes COACH Ray Black Smoke/Black,, via a loyalty point system.

"Rakuten is basically an e-commerce company, but we are moving into other businesses also. I wanted to work in the latest technologies," Womens Boots Cole Haan Lily Bootie Bison Leather,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 749340-402,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lise Sandal Champagne Snake Print,.

Family ties

But IT workers are an exception. Most others, even skilled workers, face significant hurdles to settling in Japan.

Jordan Fashion Jumpman Marliezl Abud, left, and a fellow Philippine worker talk to an elderly woman at a care center in Tokyo. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

One of the biggest difficulties has to do with restrictions on allowing family members to accompany workers -- a move designed to prevent permanent immigration. Though they are starting to loosen for a small number of the most skilled workers, such restrictions may limit Japan's allure as a destination for people with sought-after training. 

Among those whose skills are in great demand is Marliezl Abud, Womens Shoes Cole Haan Elsie Logo Wedge II Natural Roccia Snake Print/Patent,MEN'S RUNNING SHOE NIKE LUNARGLIDE 7 747355-006,Womens Boots ECCO Touch 55 Tall Buckle Boot Coffee/Coffee,, Care Port Itabashi.  

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Abud was able to come to Japan through this program, but the hurdles were high. Only those with a four-year-college degree and a Philippine qualification as a caregiver were accepted. Womens Shoes GUESS Badelia Black Leather,Men's Shoe Nike Air Berwuda 555305-006,Womens Sandals Naturalizer Catrina Sand/Turquoise Leather/Coral Printed Snake,.  

She sends most of her salary to her parents and sisters back in the Philippines. Her younger sister has a daughter who is going on to private school, and Abud's earnings contribute to her niece's education.

Abud felt a crushing homesickness at first. But after she had passed the local exam, Womens Shoes Naturalizer Utopia Pueblo Natural Smooth,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max BW Ultra 819475-001,Womens Shoes New Balance 521 Black,. She likes the shopping, too.

But she and her husband see possible obstacles ahead for their lives in Japan. Her visa allows her husband to work only up to 28 hours a week, which could pose problems if they start a family.

"I want to have a child next year," Womens Shoes New Balance Classics 515 - Polo Teal,Men's Shoe Nike Air Oscillate 140370-106,Womens Shoes Nike Flex Fury Black/Pink Foil/Sport Fuchsia/White,."

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