Adidas Springblade Women Coupon_330 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, Adidas Response Boost Womens Vista Grey/Silver Metallic/Solar Pink Running Shoes V84439,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_729,Adidas Barricade V Classic Womens Midnight Indigo/White/Silver Metallic Tennis Shoes V64554,, 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 Air Max Tailwind 8 Womens Vivid Purple/Black/Hyper Orange Running Shoes V84691,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_810,Nike Flex Experience Run 4 Womens Black/Anthracite/White/Metallic Dark Grey Running Shoes V14050,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Internationalist Womens Dark Grey/Racer Blue/Black/Spring Leaf Running Shoes V50538,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_843,Men's Nike Lunar Code Pro 3/4 D Black/Anthracite/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9631,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Vaneli Bruna Tourmaline/Turquoise Suede 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, Men's Nike Hyperdunk 2015 PRM White/Black/Bright Crimson UK#N5-9133,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_947,Nike Kids Jr Tiempo Genio Leather Firm Ground Soccer Green Strike/Black/Green Strike UK#N5-9158,, 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.

Women's Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Racer Blue/Chalk Blue/Hyper Orange/Black UK#N5-9499,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_971,Ellesse Blocco 2 Pack Boxer Short CP411,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. adidas Originals Junior Stan Smith Trainer CP584,New Balance Men Coupon_1033,Nike Junior Air Max 1 Trainer CP679,.

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, Carhartt Marlow Jean CP831,New Balance 500 Men Coupon_1117,Creative Recreation Estrada Pique Hooded Top CP1008,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike AW77 Fleece Full Zip Hooded Top CP1135,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1170,Bellfield Campbell Puffer Jacket CP1232,. "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. "Glorious Gangsta MYA BomberJacket CP1389,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1306,The North Face Quest Jacket CP1535,."

Ferrari Knit Cardigan 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.Antony Morato Fleece Short CP2076,New Balance Women Coupon_1357,Nike AW77 Short CP2172,. 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.

"Ellesse Fonda Poly Track Top CP3566,New Balance 410 Women Coupon_1417,adidas Originals Adi Sun Flip Flop CP3815,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively adidas Originals Stan Smith Trainer CP3952,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1437,adidas Originals Stan Smith Vulcanised Trainer CP4099,," 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

Asics Gel-Lyte V 'Jack Frost' Trainer CP4239,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1511,Creative Recreation Adonis Mid Trainer CP4378,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

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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.

Men's Superstar Shorts 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, Nike Air Jordan Eclipse Trainer CP4806,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1629,Ralph Lauren Polo Joplin Suede Trainer CP4956,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Women's Climaheat 1/2 Zip Long Sleeve Tee 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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Running Faster Than You Women’s Shorts 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 CARLOS by Carlos Santana Benita Brulee,Men's Nike Shoe Kobe XI 836183-154,Womens Boots Clarks Marquette Wish Taupe 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 Sandals Clarks Brinkley Jazz Gold,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 805941-403,Womens Shoes Clarks Ciera Brine Grey Herringbone,.

Nike Tech Fleece Mesh Crew 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)

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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 COACH Drew Saddle/Saddle Lux Suede/Matte Calf,Men's Shoe Air Jordan 7 Retro 304775-123,Womens Sandals Cole Haan Nassau Wedge Black/Gunsmoke/Ivory,, 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 Shoes Cole Haan Bradshaw Wedge 40 Blazer Blue Patent,Men's Shoe Jordan Rising High 2 844065-004,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lena Pump II Stormcloud Snake Embossed,.

Family ties

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

Men's Prime Hoodie 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 Boots ECCO Sport Trace Zip Moonless/Moonless,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max 1 Ultra 2.0 Flyknit 875942-100,Womens Shoes ECCO Abelone Slip On Bordeaux,, 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 Naturalizer Josephine Wide Calf Banana Bread,Men's Shoe Nike Court Zoom Vapor 9.5 Tour 631458-410,Womens Shoes Naturalizer Diner Caravan Sand/Tender Taupe Leather,.  

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 Fresh Foam Boracay Purple/Pink,Men's Shoe Nike Free Train Force Flyknit 833275-001,Womens Shoes New Balance Classics WL574 Grey/Red Textile,. 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 Nike Air Pegasus '83 Black/White/Grey Mist,Men's Shoe Nike Metcon Repper DSX College (UNC) 921215-401,Womens Shoes Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Print Racer Blue/Chalk Blue/Hyper Orange,."

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