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 Jordan CP3.IX Black/Blue Lagoon/Bright Concord/Laser Orange,Nike Air Force 1 07 Low Black Black Varsity RedMen's Jordan Eclipse Midnight Navy/White/Soar/Infrared 23,.

"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 Jordan Flight Runner 2 Infrared/Blue Graphite/Black/White,NIEK Air Jordan 1 I XQ ChinaMen's JORDAN IMPACT Cool Grey/Wolf Grey/White/Gym 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 Jordan Super.Fly 2017 Black/Infrared 23/Black,Nike AF1 High All Star 2010 Metallic 3M SilverMen's JORDAN SUPER.FLY 3 METAL Black/White,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's KD 8 Blue,Nike Air Force 1 07 Mid Neutral Grey WhiteMen's Kobe X Tumbled Grey/Night Silver/White/Black,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike SB Stefan Janoski Max Shoes Red Black Men 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 Kyrie 1 White/Dove Grey/Infrared/Black,Nike Air Force 1 Classic Low Mens shoes in Black goldMen's LeBron 15 Black/Gold,, 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 Air Diamond Fury 96 Fresh Water/Black/White,Nike Air Force 1 07 White Varsity Maize BlackMen's Nike Air Force 1 07 LV8 Black/White,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Men's Nike Air Force 1 Flyknit Low Work Blue/White/Work Blue,Nike Air Force 1 Brown BeigeMen's Nike Air Force 1 Team Red,.

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 Air Huarache Ultra White/Black/Dark Grey/Racer Blue,Nike Air Force 1 Classic Mid Mens shoes in White red yellowMen's NIKE AIR MAX 1 ESSENTIAL Sneakers,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men's Nike Air Max 2016 Concord/Total Crimson/Black/White,Nike Air Force 1 Classic Mid Mens Shoes in Black/White/Earth yelMen's NIKE AIR MAX 90 ULTRA 2.0 ESSENTIAL Black/Sail/Legion 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. "Men's Nike Air Max 95 LJ QS"lebron james",Nike Air Force 1 Classic Mid Mens shoes in Black goldMen's Nike Air Max Excellerate 3 Black/Game Royal/Wolf Grey/White,."

Mens Shoes New Balance NB 360 Fire Red White 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.Men's Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Black/Red,Nike Air Force 1 Holiday mens in Gold/BlackMen's Nike Air Odyssey PGS Leather Dark Dune/Baroque Brown/Beach/Sail,. 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 Air Tech Challenge III White/Volt/Metallic Silver/White,Nike Air Force 1 Low GS Moonlight Blue Perfect PinkMEN'S Nike Air Vapor Max Glacier Blue/Pure Platinum/White,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Men's Nike Air Zoom Odyssey Sail/Total Crimson/Black,Nike Air Force 1 LeBron James Friends Family BrownMen's NIKE AIR ZOOM PEGASUS 34 Blue Fox/Bright Crimson/White/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

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Men's Nike Classic Cortez Premium Oil Grey,Nike Air Force 1 Low Mens Shoes in Black/White DotMen's Nike Dunk Low Flyknit White/Black/White,, 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 Mens Air Max 90 Hyperfuse Premium Silver Blue Grey White Black Training Shoes 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 FLEX RUN 2014 Black/Lyon Blue/Anthracite/Poison Green,Nike Air Force 1 Low Mens Shoes in White/Dark blue/BlackMen's Nike Force Trout 3 Pro MCS Wolf Grey,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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MEN'S Nike Free Trainer 1.0 Black/Gum Medium Brown/Vivid Purple,Nike Air Force 1 Low white university blue patentMen's Nike Free Trainer V7 Week Zero (Alabama),," 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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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 Jordan Melo M-12 Basketball Shoes Men Blue/Silver/Navy/Red Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

Men's Nike Magista Obra II FG Obsidian/Gamma Blue/Glacier Blue/White,Nike Air Force 1 Premium Low Mens Shoes in GainsboroMen's NIKE MAGISTAX FINALE II IC Volt/Total Orange/Pink Blast/Black,. 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,MEN'S NIKE MERCURIAL SUPERFLY FG Olive Green,Nike Air Force 1 Premium Mid Mens Shoes in White/Yellow/GreenMEN'S NIKE MERCURIAL VAPOR X FG White/Hyper Pink/Volt,, 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, Men's NIKE MERCURIAL VICTORY VI IC Orange,Nike Air Force 1 Supreme Low Mens in Black/White/TranslucentMEN'S NIKE METCON 1 Team Red/University Red/White/Black,.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Men's Nike Roshe Flyknit Pink Flash/Club Pink/Blue Glow/Flash Lime,Nike Air Force 1 Supreme Low Shoes Mens in Black/Red/Sky blueMen's Nike Roshe One Print Racer Blue/Blue Grey/Blue Lagoon/White,.

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. Men's Nike SB Paul Rodriguez 9 Elite Obsidian/White/White,Nike Air Force 1 Supreme Low Mens shoes in White gray blackMEN'S NIKE SFB FIELD 8" BOOTS Black/Black,, 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," Men's Nike Tiempo Legacy TF Black/Green Strike/Black,NIKE Air Jordan 1 I Retro Hi Premier RedMen's Nike Tri Fusion Dark Grey/White/Black,.

Family ties

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

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Hi Woven Casual Shoes Men Black/White 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, Men's NIKE VAPOR UNTOUCHABLE PRO Black/Sport Fuchsia/Volt,NIKE Air Jordan 12 XII OG Taxis White BlackMen's Nike Zoom Hypercross TR2 Black/Cool Grey/White/Metallic Silver,, 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. Men's NIKELAB LUNAREPIC FLYKNIT RUNNING SHOES,NIKE Air Jordan 16 XVI OG Black RedNIKE AIR MAX 1 ULTRA MOIRE - PHANTOM / WHITE / GUM YELLOW MENS SHOES,.  

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, NIKE ROSHE ONE - WHITE MENS SHOES,NIKE Air Jordan 19 XIX OG SE East CoastCheep Air Jordan 4 Shoes Men VGF0484,. 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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