Adidas Crazy 8 Boys Grade School Solar Zest/Blast Purple/White Basketball Shoes V78591 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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It is demanding work, adidas Originals Superstar Track Top CP3514,Men's Nike Zoom Without A Doubt White/Black/Cool Grey/Reflect Silver UK#N5-9221Franklin & Marshall Arch Logo Suit CP3607,.

"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, Timberland 6 Inch Cupsole Boot CP3762,Men's Nike Dart 11 White/Dove Grey/White/Black UK#N5-9355Havaianas Brasil Flip Flop CP3845,, 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. Clae Ellington Suede Shoe CP3880,Men's Nike Match Supreme White/Black/White/Black UK#N5-9481adidas Originals ZX Flux Trainer CP3962,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. adidas Originals ZX Flux Slip On Trainer CP4035,Men's Nike Air Relentless 5 Black/Hyper Orange/Dark Grey/White UK#N5-9085adidas Originals Stan Smith Vulcanised Trainer CP4099,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Lynn 1 Black/White 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, adidas Originals ZX Flux Trainer CP4166,Men's Nike Hypervenomx Finale TF Wolf Grey/White/Total Orange UK#N5-9287Asics Gel-Lyte V 'Jack Frost' Trainer CP4239,, 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, Nike Air Force 1 Comfort Huarache Trainer CP4627,Men's Nike MD Runner 2 Mid Black/White/Black UK#N5-8978Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Breathe Trainer CP4708,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Zoom Stefan Janoski Canvas Premium Trainer CP4724,Men's Nike Air Pegasus 83 Leather Red Clay/Gym Red/Team Red/Deep Burgundy UK#N5-8728Nike Air Huarache Trainer CP4832,. "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. "Ralph Lauren Polo Klinger Sport Suede Trainer CP4950,Men's Nike Toki Low TXT Print White/Dark Grey/Wolf Grey/Black UK#N5-9477Reebok Ex O Fit Low Clean Trainer CP4977,."

Womens Shoes Superga 2750 Fabric Bahamas Tropical Azul/Multi 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.Vans Old Skool Side Stripe Trainer CP5082,Men's Nike Hyperdunk 2015 PRM White/Black/Bright Crimson UK#N5-9133Clarks Originals Womens Desert Aerial Boot CP5137,. 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

Womens Sandals Aerosoles Dream Plush Bronze,Men's Nike SB Portmore Anthracite/Black/Cyber UK#N5-9324Womens Sandals Aerosoles Serenwipity Safari Print,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Shoes Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Big Hearted White,Nike Kids Sunray Adjust 4 Black/Bright Crimson/Gym Red UK#N5-9618Womens Boots ALDO Oceima Black,, the government's trainee program has allowed them to hold on to their livelihoods.

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.

Womens Boots UGG Cassis Lodge Leather 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, Womens Sandals ALDO Marianne Black,Nike Kids Elastico Pro III TF Jr Soccer Volt/White/Black UK#N5-9484Womens Shoes ALDO Nika Bluette,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Boots UGG Classic Short Woven Suede Charcoal Suede 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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Womens Slippers UGG Belle Starry Night Hearts Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Womens Sandals Clarks Breeze Mila White,Hype Embroidered Backpack CP67Womens Shoes Clarks Delsie Joy Dark Taupe Suede,, CEO of Japanese e-commerce company Rakuten, at an in-house seminar last year.

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 Shoes Clarks Haydn Juniper Brown Suede,Nike Flex Fury 2 Womens Dark Grey/White/Pink Blast Running Shoes V51192Womens Boots COACH Tara Black/Black,.

Womens Boots Vaneli Jessy Grey Suede/Matching Mop Buttons 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)

Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Sandals COACH Caterine Beechwood,Mr Lacy Runnies Laces CP368Womens Shoes COACH Terri Natural Calf,.

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 Shoes COACH Arlene Black Calf Suede,adidas Originals Infant ZX Flux Trainer CP474Womens Boots Cole Haan Garner Tall Boot Extended Calf Chestnut,, 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 Sandals Cole Haan Hart Wedge Black,Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Trainer CP481Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bradshaw Sling 40 Maple Sugar,.

Family ties

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

Womens Sandals Vaneli Bebra Lime Nappa/Turquoise Nappa 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 Tali Grand Lace Wedge 40 Zinfandel,Kickers Infant Core Kick High Boot CP528Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lena Open Toe Pump 75 II Gold Metallic,, 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 ECCO Sport Biom Ultra Quest Plus Dark Shadow/Dark Shadow/Coral,adidas Originals Junior Los Angeles Trainer CP591Womens Shoes GUESS Plasmas Multi Floral,.  

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 GUESS Honora White Multi/Rich Cobalt,Nike Junior Air Force 1 Mid Trainer CP619Womens Boots Naturalizer Ballona Brown Smooth,. 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 Sandals Naturalizer Subtle White Leather/Shiny,Timberland Junior 6 Inch Boot CP696Womens Shoes Naturalizer Intrigue Bridal Brown Leather,."

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