Adidas Springblade 2013 Men Coupon_266 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 Air Huarache Run Ultra Womens Photo Blue/White Running Shoes V68450,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_747,Nike Air Max Thea Womens Gamma Blue/Deep Royal Blue/White/Rio Teal Running Shoes V55278,, 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. Nike Free Rn Flyknit Womens Hyper Violet/Gamma Blue/Concord/Black Running Shoes V59614,Jimmy Choo Boots Women Coupon_698,Nike Shox Nz Womens Black/Dark Grey/Pink Blast/Pink Blast Running Shoes V17476,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's Nike Magista Onda TF Metallic Pewter/Ghost Green/Black UK#N5-9516,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_833,Nike Kids Flex 2015 Run Cool Grey/University Red/Black/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9149,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Hurley Corman 3.0 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, Women's Nike Force Sky High Sneaker Wedge White/Metallic Summit White/Sport Fuchsia UK#N5-9472,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_936,Under Armour Hustle Storm Backpack CP96,, 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, Ellesse Teminillo Boucle Hooded Top CP1052,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1148,Antony Morato Contrast Fabric Jacket CP1208,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Ellesse Puffer Jacket CP1354,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1211,Nike MPT Tech Hyperfuse Windrunner Jacket CP1473,. "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. "Alessandro Zavetti Catina Roll Neck Knit CP1771,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1289,Jack & Jones Stan Osaka AT003 Shorts CP2160,."

Men's Superstar Shorts 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.Oiler & Boiler Tuckernuck Shortie Swimmer Short CP2331,New Balance Women Coupon_1367,Rockport Peakview Boundary Boot CP3752,. 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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Nike Flystepper 2K3 Trainer CP4746,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1591,Puma XT2 Trainer CP4895,, 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.

Nike Rally Logo 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, The North Face Ultra Kilowatt Trainers CP5046,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1668,Timberland Womens Glancy 6 Inch Boot CP5186,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Nike Color Surge Crossback Sport Bra 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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Men's Sport Essentials Mid Hoodie 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 Caslynn Dylan Black Leather,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Elite 8 748588-001,Womens Shoes Clarks Amelia Page Black 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 Evie Bow Navy Suede,Men's Running Shoe Nike Free RN Distance 827115-006,Womens Sandals COACH Pelican Plum Shiny Jelly,.

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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 Shoes Cole Haan Bethany Pump 85 Maple Sugar Leather,Men's Shoe Jordan Jumpman Team II 819175-601,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Jenni Gore Ballet II Black Patent,, via a loyalty point system.

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Family ties

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

Wholesale UK Adidas Originals Campus G56477 Leisure Skateboard Shoes Men Blue White Tdyz3lPM 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. 

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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 New Balance WX813v3 Black/Pink,Men's Shoe Nike Free Train Instinct 833274-100,Womens Shoes New Balance Classics 574 - Core Plus Grey/Red,.  

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 Nike Flex 2015 RUN Black/Pink Foil/Pink Glow/Bright Citrus,Men's Shoe Nike Lupinek Flyknit Low 882685-100,Womens Shoes Nike DF Ballistec Advantage Chalk Blue/White/Light Blue/Chalk Blue,. 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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