Air Max 1 Shoes Beige White Black 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, Men's NIKE AIR MAX 90 ULTRA 2.0 FLYKNIT WHITE,Air Max BW Shoes White Purple Blue,Men's Nike Air Max 97 Black / Silver / Volt,.

"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, MEN'S Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Print Cool Grey/Pure Platinum/Black,Air Max LTD Shoes Golden Black White,Men's Nike Air Pegasus Racer Team Red/Mahogany/Sail/Team Red,, 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. Men's NIKE AIR VAPOR ADVANTAGE White/Light Magnet Grey/Black/Space Blue,Air Max TN 3 Shoes White Grey,Men's Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Blue Lagoon/Bright Citrus/Total Orange/Black,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. MEN'S NIKE AIR ZOOM STREAK 5 Black/Reflect Silver/Blue Lagoon/Voltage Green,Air Max TN Shoes Deep Blue White Black,Men's Nike Alpha Pro 2 3/4 D Deep Forest/Black/White,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Miler 598589-669 Team Dark Maroon/Team White 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 CJ3 Flyweave Trainer White/Bright Crimson/Volt,Discount new nike air jordan 13 (XIII)-white/black/blue scribble A4864-26,Men's Nike Field General 2 "California",, 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.

Men's NIKE FLYKNIT TRAINER CHUKKA SFB Gym Red/Deep Burgundy/Hyper Crimson/Sail,Kids Nike Shox R4 Shoes Silver Blue,Men's Nike Free 5.0 Running Shoes Red,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Men's Nike Free RN Flyknit Crimson,Men's Dunk High Pro SB Skate or Die Edition Black Neon Yellow,MEN'S NIKE FREE TRAINER 5.0 Catalina/Bleached Turquoise/Hyper Crimson,.

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, Men's Nike Hyperdunk 2015 (Team) Game Royal/Blue Hero/Metallic Silver,Men's Nike Dunk High Premium ND - Spider,Men's NIke Hypervenom Phantom III DF FG Black/Blue,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men's NIKE HYPERVENOMX PROXIMO II Dynamic Fit IC Black/Silver,Men's Nike Dunk High White Varsity Red Black,MEN'S NIKE KD7 Hyper Jade/Black/Photo Blue/Volt,. "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. "Men's NIKE LUNAR MVP PREGAME 2 White/Black,Men's Nike Dunk Low Spiderman Marvel Custom,MEN'S NIKE LUNARECLIPSE 5 Hot Lava/Volt/White,."

Nike Pro Combat Hypercool 2.0 Fitted 449840-831 Atomic Mango/Military Blue/Military Blue 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.Men's NIKE LUPINEK FLYKNIT Cargo Khaki/Sequoia,Men's Puma SF Drift Cat Black White Traienrs,Men's Nike Magista Orden II FG Black/University Red/Bright Crimson/White,. 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.

"Men's Nike Mercurial Superfly FG CR7 Black/White,Mens Nike Air Max 2009 Shoes - Black/White Leather,Men's Nike Mercurial Vapor XI FG "BARCELONA ",, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively MEN'S NIKE MERCURIALX PROXIMO II IC Total Orange,Mens Nike Air Max 24-7 Shoes - Deepblue/Grey,Men's Nike React Hyperdunk 2017 Low University Red/White/Team Red/Black,," 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

Men's NIKE ROSHE TWO FLYKNIT Wolf Grey/Stadium Green/White,Mens Nike Air Max 90 Shoes - White/Black/Red/Blue,Men's NIKE SB STEFAN JANOSKI MAX Dark Grey/Black,, 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.

Nike Air Foamposite Pro Aqua Dark Obsidian 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 Nike Vapor Untouchable Pro PF 839924 113,Mens Nike Air Structure Triax 91 Shoes - Black/Gold/White,MEN'S NIKE ZOOM HYPERFUSE 2014 Cool Grey/Wolf Grey/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 Air Jordan CP3.VII AE X Graffiti Sport Blue Infrared 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,Men Nike Air Max 2016 Print Racer Blue/Black/Black,Nike Air Force 1 Euro Mid Matrix Crocodile Edition,New Nike Air Max 2015 White Black,, 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.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Adidas Top Ten Hi Sleek Bow Silver White Unisex Shoes,Nike Air Force 1 Low University Blue White,New Balance NB 577 Edition Mens Shoes Red White Grey,.

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 Air Max 90 Premium Black/Red/White/Light Grey/Platinum Mens Mesh Shoes,Nike Air Force 1 Premium Low Mens in Grey plaid/White/Beige,Nike Roshe Run Hyperfuse Mens Mesh Shoes Team Orange/Team Red/Hyper Jade,, 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," Nike Air Jordan Ultra.Fly Basketball Shoes Men White/Metallic Copper/Black,Nike Air Force 1 Premium Player Low Mens Shoes in White/Yellow,Adidas Samoa Casual Shoes Men Black,.

Family ties

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

Nike Air Max Coliseum Racer Wolf Grey 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, Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Hi Woolrich Casual Shoes Men Black/Blue,Nike Air Force 1 Supreme Low Mens Shoes in White/Translucent,Nike Roshe Ld-1000 Qs Casual Shoes Men Black/Dark Grey/White,, 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. Nike Air Max 90 Utility Running Shoes Men Blue/Black/Dark Grey,NIKE Air Jordan 18 XVIII OG White Black Chrome,Nike Free 4.0 V5 Running Shoes Men Black/White,.  

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, Reebok Zjet Thunder Running Shoes Men Grey/Red,NIKE Air Jordan 3 III Retro White Dark,Reebok Nano 5.0 Crossfit Training Shoes Men Red/Red/Grey,. 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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