Adidas D Rose 773 Iii Mens Black/Neon Pink/Black Basketball Shoes V23123 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

adidas Originals Energy Boost 2 ESM Trainer CP3958,Women's Nike Lunar Lux TR Stealth/Pure Platinum/Wolf Grey/Pink Pow UK#N5-8994adidas Originals Superstar SuperColor Trainer CP4011,. Along with a group of Japanese colleagues, they will spend the day moving heavy wooden pilings and pouring concrete for the foundation of a seven-story condominium block. 

It is demanding work, adidas Originals Superstar Foundation Trainer CP4052,Hype Speckle Backpack CP69adidas Originals ZX 8000 Boost Trainer CP4147,.

"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, Armani Jeans Tonal Suede Leather Trainer CP4190,Vans Old Skool Backpack CP100Converse Chuck Taylor All Star High Trainer CP4262,, 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. Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Trainer CP4336,Nike Zoom Structure 18 Womens Lyon Blue/Black/Pink Pow/Clearwater Running Shoes V62935Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Trainer CP4369,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Cruyff The Gria Trainer CP4423,Mitchell & Ness Ultimate Snapback CP227Lacoste Premium Leather Gazon Slip-on Trainer CP4517,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Boots UGG Classic Short Sparkles Black 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 MD Runner Trainer CP4590,Mr Lacy Flat Laces CP356Nike Stefan Janoski Max Trainer CP4645,, 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, Supra Stacks Vulc II Trainer CP5043,Vans Boys Full Patch Hooded Top CP437Y3 Snow Model Trainer CP5118,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Timberland Womens 6 Inch Premium Boot CP5172,Nike Youth Back To School Bubble Jacket CP422Unisex Shoes adidas Adizero HJ Navy/White/Equipment Green,. "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. "Womens Shoes adidas Cloudfoam Flow Core Black/Core Black/Flash Red,Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Trainer CP487Womens Shoes adidas Golf adiZero Sport III Running White/Silver Metallic/Lucky Blue,."

Womens Boots UGG Meredith Black 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.Womens Boots Aerosoles In An Instint Tan,adidas Originals Infant Racer Lite Trainer CP470Womens Sandals Aerosoles Supper Chlub Silver,. 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.

"Womens Sandals Aerosoles Savant Black Combo,Hunter Infant Original Chelsea Boot CP523Womens Shoes Aerosoles Dimperial Black Patent,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Boots ALDO Dyna Black Nubuck,Nike Infant Roshe Run Trainer CP537Womens Boots ALDO Jen Brown,," Kingston said.

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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Womens Shoes Anne Klein AKPrisha Black Twinkle,adidas Originals Junior Gazelle 2 Trainer CP594Womens Shoes Anne Klein Beamer Dark Taupe Multi Fabric,, 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 Vaneli Jill Tmoro Nival Suede/Brown Nevada 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 Badgley Mischka Amuse II Navy Denim,adidas Originals Junior Superstar Foundation Trainer CP588Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Scarlett Berry Satin/Chiffon,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Womens Sandals C Label Raya-3 White,Kickers Junior Kick T Brogue Shoe CP613Womens Shoes C Label Clower-3 Natural,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

Womens Boots Calvin Klein Cilil Shadow Grey Suede,Nike Junior Free 5.0 Flash Trainer CP627Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Jiselle Soft White Toscana Leather,," he said. "I want to do more work." He says he wants to run a big farm in Indonesia one day, perhaps growing rice or coffee.

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Womens Sandals Vaneli Elyta Natural Cork/Gold 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 Shoes Vaneli Jiles T.Moro Ecco Suede/T.Moro Elastic Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

Womens Shoes Clarks Foxvale Spell Black Leather,Flossy Nursery Plimsole CP765Womens Boots COACH Lester Denim Shiny Rubber,. 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 COACH Vitalia Pink Ruby Patent,Foray Frost Regular Fit Jean CP845Womens Sandals COACH Caterine Platinum Metallic Tumbled,, 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 COACH Moonlight White/White Rivets Nappa/Suede,Asylum Hipster Denim Jean CP829Womens Boots Cole Haan Wesley Tall Boot Chestnut,.

Womens Shoes Vaneli Garim Black Nappa/Black Patent 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 Cole Haan Air Melissa Buckle Thong Black,Levi's 511 Slim Jean CP897Womens Shoes Cole Haan Melrose Sandal Black Multi 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 Cole Haan Bowie Slip-On Sneaker Bristol Blue Perf Textile,adidas Originals Chaos Full Zip Hooded Top CP953Womens Shoes Cole Haan Tali Grand Lace Wedge 40 Coral Haze Perf,, 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 ECCO Sculptured 45 Wedge Black,Condemned Nation Beccles Hooded Top CP983Womens Shoes ECCO Touch 15 Tassel Burgundy/Burgundy,.

Family ties

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

Women's Cycling Padded Shorts 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 ECCO Felicia Marine,Creative Recreation Reese Full Zip Hooded Top CP1009Womens Sandals GUESS Shanan Yellow Suede,, Care Port Itabashi.  

Womens Shoes GUESS Aerra Black/Silver Lace,Cruyff Laszlo Lounge Hooded Top CP1037Womens Boots Hunter Original Short Gloss Bright Cerise,, it entered economic partnership agreements with the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam that would allow up to 900 caregivers a year to come work in the country for up to four or five years each. 

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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 Sandals Naturalizer Harrison Caravan Sand Leather,Glorious Gangsta Cicerio Velour Full Zip Hooded Top CP1065Womens Shoes Naturalizer Ivy Black Leather/Shiny,.  

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 New Balance WW565 Black/Pink,Nike Tech Windrunner Fleece CP1111Womens Shoes New Balance W1400v3 Purple/Pink,. 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 315 - Cush+ Black,Original Penguin Backford Hooded Top CP1140Womens Shoes Nike Air Cage Court White/Ice Cube Blue/Light Blue Lacquer/Clearwater,."

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