Adidas D Rose 6 Boys Grade School Copper Metallic/Black/Scarlet/Shock Mint Basketball Shoes V48820 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, Alessandro Zavetti Ernici Track Top CP3538,Men's Nike Dual Fusion Trail Black/Cool Grey/Challenge Red UK#N5-9616Ellesse Rimini Track Top CP3560,.

"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 Newmarket II Cupsole 6 Inch Boot CP3777,Men's Nike Tiempo Genio II Leather TF Light Crimson/Total Crimson/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9521Ellesse Trevi Big Logo Flip Flop CP3832,, 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 Originals Superstar II Trainer CP3944,Men's Nike Magista Onda TF Metallic Pewter/Ghost Green/Black UK#N5-9516adidas Originals Stan Smith Perforated Trainer CP3978,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. adidas Originals Ultra Boost Trainer CP4059,Men's Nike Magistax Finale IC Black/Volt/White/Black UK#N5-8967adidas Originals Pharrell Superstar Supershell Trainer CP4137,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Laura Brown Black Leopard 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, Asics Gel-Lyte III 'Carnival Pack' Trainer CP4209,Men's Nike FS Lite Trainer II Black/Volt/White/Metallic Platinum UK#N5-9585Converse Chuck Taylor All Star High Leather Trainer CP4276,, 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 Max 1 Premium Trainer CP4659,Men's Nike Mercurial Victory V TF Urban Lilac/Bright Mango/Black UK#N5-9486Nike Jordan Son of Low 'Grey Mist' Trainer CP4675,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Hyperfresh Trainer CP4771,Men's Nike Lunar Ultimate TR Deep Pewter/Total Orange/White UK#N5-9249Puma Suede Classic Trainer CP4888,. "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. "Puma Trinomic R698 Bright Trainer CP4927,Men's Nike Air Max Invigor Premium Black/White/Black UK#N5-9578Supra Owen Trainer CP5021,."

Womens Shoes Superga 2750 Cracked LEAW White 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.Y3 Qasa High Trainer CP5128,Men's Nike SB Satire Canvas Premium Black/White/Gum Light Brown/Black UK#N5-9452Timberland Womens Earthkeepers 14 Inch Premium Zip Boot CP5184,. 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.

Womens Boots UGG Emalie Black 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 Reinelle Black,Nike Kids Roshe One Print Copa/Blue Lagoon/White UK#N5-9547Womens Boots Anne Klein Klye Brown Leather,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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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 Mellie Chestnut Water Resistant Suede Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

Womens Boots Clarks Palma Trina Black Leather,Hype Quilted Backpack CP66Womens Sandals Clarks Un Dory Red Leather,. technology companies like Google and Uber in the emerging fields of autonomous driving, artificial intelligence, ride-sharing and the internet of things. In these new fields, the flow of ideas -- and people -- is vital.

"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Womens Sandals Clarks Helio Float 4 Blue Suede,Women's Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 5 Pure Platinum/Racer Blue/White/Stealth UK#N5-8803Womens Shoes Clarks Daelyn Towne Honey Leather,, 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 Vailee Stone Grey,Calvin Klein Cotton Stretch 3 Pack Boxer Short CP406Womens Boots COACH Tristee Black/Neutral Ocelot,.

Womens Sandals Vaneli Baylee Black Nappa/Smog Specchio Kid/Gunmetal Buckle 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 Alyssa Black/Black/Rubber/Calico Rose,adidas Originals Infant Stan Smith Trainer CP462Womens Shoes COACH Smith Black Suede,.

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 Orlene Stone Calf Suede,Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Trainer CP498Womens Boots Cole Haan Putnam Waterproof Bootie Chesnut Suede,, 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 Jillian Wedge Optic White,Nike Infant Air Max 90 Leather Trainer CP535Womens Shoes Cole Haan Cary Venetian Grey Jade Nubuck,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Vaneli Madora Ivory Satin - Zappos Exclusive 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 Lena Wedge WP 55mm II Black Patent WP,Havaianas Infant Brasil Logo Flip Flop CP522Womens Shoes Converse CTAS Shroud Classic Cheetah,, 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 Boots GUESS Cariss Brown Suede,Nike Junior Lunarglide 6 Trainer CP626Womens Shoes GUESS Eloy Black/Silver Lace,.  

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 Boots Hunter W Original Short BT Refined Mineral Blue/Midnight,adidas Originals Nursery Racer Lite Trainer CP703Womens Boots Naturalizer Transform Dark 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 Shoes Naturalizer Dalena Caravan Sand Leather,adidas Originals Nursery Racer Lite Trainer CP702Womens Shoes Naturalizer Joyce British Burgundy Suede,."

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