Asics Gel-Quik 33 Women Coupon_389 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

Nike Air Max Ltd Mens Midnight Navy/Midnight Navy/Midnight Navy Running Shoes V65322,Jimmy Choo Boots Women Coupon_676,Nike Air Zoom Odyssey Mens White/Volt/Vivid Purple Running Shoes V94985,. Along with a group of Japanese colleagues, they will spend the day moving heavy wooden pilings and pouring concrete for the foundation of a seven-story condominium block. 

It is demanding work, Nike Free Rn Mens White/Black Running Shoes V86752,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_719,Nike Tri Fusion Run Mens White/Cool Grey/Wolf Grey/Black Running Shoes V90817,.

"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 Springblade Drive Womens Power Teal/Frost Mint/Neon Orange Running Shoes V69462,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_790,Adidas Barricade V Classic Womens White/Silver Metallic/Light Onix Tennis Shoes V94282,, 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_822,Nike Classic Cortez Womens Team Red/Metallic Gold/White Running Shoes V80249,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Free 5.0 2015 Womens Violet Ash/White/Hyper Orange/Black Running Shoes V84277,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_914,Men's Nike Hypervenomx Pro IC Metallic Red Bronze/Green Glow/Black UK#N5-9515,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Vaneli Binge Black Mag Patent 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 Zoom Hyperrev 2016 Wolf Grey/White/Cool Grey UK#N5-8874,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_969,Nike Kids Air Max Stutter Step 2 University Red/Black/Cool Grey/White UK#N5-8747,, 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 Golf Lunar Control White/Bright Citrus/Pink Pow UK#N5-8930,New Balance Men Coupon_1051,Calvin Klein Cotton Stretch 3 Pack Boxer Short CP409,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Havaianas Infant Brasil Logo Flip Flop CP521,New Balance 1400 Men Coupon_1083,Nike Junior Air Max 90 Leather Trainer CP677,.

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, Asylum Native Spray On Jean CP826,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1205,Condemned Nation Blyth Tech Poly Hooded Top CP986,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Tech Fleece Hooded Top CP1112,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1239,Bellfield Serum Reflective Runner Jacket CP1249,. "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. "Ellesse Nero Outdoor Jacket CP1366,New Balance 891 Men Coupon_1303,Rains Parka Jacket CP1509,."

Ferrari Bermudas 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.Nike Junior Air Max 95 Trainers CP676,New Balance Women Coupon_1393,Nike Nike AW77 Box Shorts CP2189,. 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

Asics Gel-Kayano EVO Trainer CP4225,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1634,Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Canvas Trainer CP4334,, 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 Club 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 Force 1 Trainer CP4809,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1784,Ralph Lauren Polo Jermain Leather Trainer CP4961,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Vans Old Skool Trainer CP5099,Nike LeBron James Men Coupon_1854,Nike Womens Benassi Swoosh Sandal CP5239,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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Golf Lux Tech Polo 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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Boxer Shorts 2 pack 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 Mira Blue,Men's Running Shoe (Jungle Pack) Nike Free RN 849811-406,Womens Boots Clarks Malia Poplar A - Wide Shaft 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 Sandals Clarks Paylor Pax White Synthetic,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Vomero 10 717440-803,Womens Shoes Clarks Ciera Brine Burgundy Leather,.

U.S. Flash Premium 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)

Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Shoes Clarks Pastina Lima Sage Nubuck Leather,Men's Running Shoe Nike LunarTempo 2 818097-100,Womens Sandals COACH Alessa Grey/Grey Rubber/Geo Signature,.

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 Idena Saddle/Saddle/Matt Calf/Matt Calf,Men's Shoe Jordan Eclipse 724010-405,Womens Boots Cole Haan Newburg Waterproof Bootie Black Leather,, 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 Corinne OT Pump Black Suede/Old Gold Metallic,Men's Shoe Nike Air ACG Mowabb OG 749492-018,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Zerogrand Maryjane Astral Blue Neoprene/Mesh,.

Family ties

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

NikeCourt 7 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 Touch 15 Buckle Boot Coffee/Mocha,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Emergent 818954-104,Womens Shoes ECCO Perth Loafer Black,, 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 Ballona Brown Smooth,Men's Shoe Nike Flyknit Air Max 620469-016,Womens Shoes Naturalizer Debra 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 WMD800v3 Wasabi/Spectrum Blue,Men's Shoe Nike Kobe Mamba Instinct 852473-500,Womens Shoes New Balance W577V3 Black,. 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 Zoom Fit Wolf Grey/Dark Grey/Volt/White,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe Two 844656-003,Womens Shoes Nike MD Runner 2 Wolf Grey/Varsity Maize/White/Bright Mango,."

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