Authentic 152502 Nike Air Max Women Black Pink Shoes 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

Men's Shoe Nike LunarTempo 2 BeTrue 848124-600,New Balance Women Coupon_1354Men's Shoe Nike Roshe One Hyper Breathe 833125-401,. 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, Men's Shoe Nike Zoom All Out Low 889123-001,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1336Men's Shoe NikeCourt Zoom Cage 2 705247-840,.

"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 Training Shoe Nike Lunar Caldra 803879-013,New Balance 999 Men Coupon_1338MEN'S TRAINING SHOE NIKE ZOOM HYPERCROSS TR2 749362-007,, 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 1 ULTRA ESSENTIALS Black/Sail/Black,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_946Nike Air Max Zero Unisex Shoe 789695-102,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. NIKE BLAZER MID SUEDE VINTAGE Black/Wolf Grey/Sail,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_585NIKE FREE 5.0 Menta/Green Glow/Bright Citrus,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes C Label Liberty-8B Old Gold 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, NIKE LUNARGLIDE 6 Black/Bright Crimson/Hot Lava/White,New Balance Women Coupon_1388Nike SB Zoom Stefan Janoski Slip-On Premium Unisex Skateboarding Shoe 833582-441,, 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, Women's Shoe Nike Metcon 2 821913-001,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1333Nike Air Max 90 Boys Toddler Black/Cool Grey Running Shoes V15126,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Adidas D Rose 773 Iii Boys Preschool White/Black Basketball Shoes V86309,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1457Adidas D Lillard 2.0 Boys Grade School Power Red/Power Red/Scarlet Basketball Shoes V69403,. "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. "Adidas Rose 773 Boys Grade School Aluminum/White/Light Scarlet Basketball Shoes V10381,New Balance Women Coupon_1368Nike Roshe One Boys Grade School Wolf Grey/Cool Grey/White Running Shoes V97249,."

Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Ginnie Lacquer Red Cow Silk 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 Free 5.0 2015 Girls Grade School Black/Vivid Pink/Pink Pow/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V29444,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1463Adidas D Lillard 1 Mens Black/White/Scarlet Basketball Shoes V35773,. 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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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.

Womens Boots CARLOS by Carlos Santana Helene Merlot 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 Zoom Structure 18 Mens Total Orange/Voltage Green/Ghost Green/Black Running Shoes V81578,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1497Adidas Pure Boost Womens White/Black/Clear Grey Running Shoes V87411,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Nike Air Max 90 Womens White/Black Running Shoes V87056,New Balance 670 Women Coupon_1517Nike Classic Cortez Womens White/Metallic Gold Running Shoes V92454,," 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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Womens Boots Clarks Promise Camp Grey Leather 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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Womens Sandals Clarks Palmdale Dasha Shingle Grey Suede 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,Levi's 511 Slim Jean CP897,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1774Creative Recreation Sawtell Full Zip Hooded Top CP1011,, 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, Nike Tech Fleece AW77 Hooded Top CP1124,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1765Antony Morato Hooded Light Jacket CP1216,.

Womens Shoes Clarks Charron Artic Black Nubuck 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. Ellesse Costainas Nylon Jacket CP1358,Nike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1790Native Youth Ripstop Padded Tech Parka Jacket CP1461,.

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. Duck & Cover Ramirez Striped Knit CP1795,LEBRON 12 Black/Pink Pow/Blue Lagoon/BlackCarhartt Skill Short CP2101,, 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," Calvin Klein One Logo Tape Swim Short CP2293,LEBRON 12 University Red/White/Hyper Crimson/Blackadidas Originals Superstar Track Top CP3522,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Clarks Haley Skylar Navy Nubuck 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, Timberland Euro Hiker Boot CP3778,Men's Basketball Shoe Jordan Ultra.Fly 834268-010Farah Form Hi Shoe CP3912,, 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. adidas Originals Gazelle Indoor Trainer CP4068,Men's Basketball Shoe Nike Zoom KD 9 843392-411Creative Recreation Cesario Low Woven Trainer CP4382,.  

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, Lacoste Marcel LCR Trainer CP4526,Men's Boot Nike SFB 6" Bomber 862506-200Nike Air Max 95 Trainer CP4622,. 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," Nike KD VIII 'PG County' Trainer CP4797,Men's Firm-Ground Soccer Cleat Nike Hypervenom Phantom II FG 747213-108Puma XT2 Trainer CP4894,."

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