Adidas NXT LVL SPD 3 Men Black/Silver Metallic/Core White Basketball Shoes 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, Original adidas NMD R1 Japan Black,Adidas F10 FG Men Solar Red/Core White/Black Soccer Shoes,Original Comme des Garcons x Nike Air VaporMax Black Gold,, 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. Original Lebron James 12 Red Metallic Silver,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Performated Damske Tenisky Siva 878-63000,Real Cheap Nike Air Flight 89 Black Cool Grey,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Real Cheap Nike Air Yeezy 2 Red October 508214 010,Jordan 1 Retro Hi Decon Panske Basketbalov,Real Lebron James 13 Low Black Cosmic Purple White,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Lacoste Lamarck - Brown/ White Buy 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, Shop Cheap adidas D Rose 7 Grey Black Purple Orange,Nike Air Force 1 Ultraforce Detske(6-13) Basketbalov,Shop Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 6 Wolf Grey Black Cool Grey White 525015 002,, 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, Australia Nike Zoom Winflo 3 Sn63 Shoes Mens Red/Crims/Black 807766NT,2016 Curry 2.5 Elite Original Playoff 2016 SC30 Reduced Gun Father to Son Violet Sport discounts Teal,NZ Nike Genicco Trainers Shoes Mens BlueGraph/Wht 338842SR,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Outlet Nike Air Max Emergent Basketball Trainers Shoes Mens White/Sil/Royal 864923FK,2017 Jordan Hydro 13 Design Retro Create White Lowest price Grey Slide Slippers,Sale Nike Merc Victory CR7 Indoor Trainers Shoes Mens Black/Wht/Crmsn 499984TB,. "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. "Specials Nike Air Vapor Advantage Trainers Shoes Mens Grey/Black 191735GP,AQ0067-600 Nike Epic React Popular Flyknit Good,NIKE / AIR MAX 90 ULTRA 2.0 ES ANTHRACITE / BLACK- UNIVERSITY RED-WHITE 875695-007,."

New Balance U410HNG - Navy/Green  Sale 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 / AUTHENTIC GOBLIN BLUE / TRUE WHITE VA38EM2LJ,Canada Nike KD 8 Road Game Custom Lagoon Tide Pool 749375 480 Black Bright Citrus Blue,ENJOI / AIRBRUSHED PREMIUM S/S WHITE 20017757,. 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.

Nike Air Max Command - Black/ Black- Black Factory Price 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, Men's RUSSELL ATHLETIC Sleeveless Tee (WHITE-34),lebron 12 Lava Ice South Beach Sport Turquoise Teal Factory Total Wolf Grey Pink Silver Orange,Men's TIMBERLAND Euro Hiker Boots Black (BLACK),, 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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Nike Free Run 2 - Deep Burgundy/Cedar-Deep Burgundy New Arrival 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.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Basketball OTHER-0118,Women Max Sandals-0005,Basketball Kobe-0353,.

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. Nike Free44-0812,Women Air Force--131,Jordans 7-0055,, 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," Man Max 90-0797,Women Max 90-0744,Basketball Durant-0224,.

Family ties

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

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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. 

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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. Nike KYRIE-0010,Basketball Women-0168,Basketball Griffin-0008,.  

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, Basketball James-0304,Basketball Women-0050,Basketball James-0273,. 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.

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