Authentic 218819 Nike Zoom Hyperfuse Men Red Black 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 Boot Jordan Future 854554-002,Adidas Porsche Design G3 Men Coupon_164Men's Firm-Ground Soccer Cleat Nike Hypervenom Phantom 3 DF FG 860643-001,. 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 Golf Shoe Nike Lunar Control 4 819037-001,Adidas Porsche Design S3 Men Coupon_194Men's Nike Air Max 90 Ultra BR Shoe 725222-002,.

"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 ROMALEOS II POWER LIFTING Black/White/Cool Grey,Adidas Porsche Design III Men Coupon_176Men's Nike Shoe Free Trainer 5.0 White/Light Crimson/Black,, 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 Running Shoe Nike Air Max 2015 698902-080,Adidas Porsche Design II Men Coupon_167Men's Running Shoe Nike Flex Fury 2 819134-007,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. MEN'S RUNNING SHOE NIKE LUNARGLIDE 7 747355-004,Adidas Springblade 2013 Men Coupon_249Men's Shoe Jordan Clutch 845043-104,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Boots Aerosoles Sweet Ride Black 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 Shoe Jordan Horizon Low 845098-001,Adidas Springblade Men Coupon_222Men's Shoe Nike Air Huarache Premium 704830-007,, 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, Men's Shoe Nike Jordan Galaxy 820255-402,Adidas Springblade 2013 Men Coupon_261Men's Shoe Nike Roshe One Hyper Breathe 833125-300,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men's Shoe Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 9 FlyEase 846246-110,Adidas Springblade 2013 Men Coupon_273Men's Shoe NikeLab Air Max 1 Pinnacle 859554-003,. "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 Training Shoe Nike Metcon 2 819899-601,Adidas Springblade 2013 Men Coupon_276NIKE AIR HUARACHE Black/Menta/Hot Lava/Black,."

Womens Boots ALDO Dyanna Black Patent 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 AIR ZOOM ELITE 7 Volt/Black/Lyon Blue,Adidas Porsche Design VI Men Coupon_214NIKE FLYKNIT LUNAR 3 Black/Bright Crimson/University Red/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.

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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

Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33 831356-100,Comfortable 235536 Nike Free 4.0 Women Grey White Bright Mango ShoesWomen's Shoe Nike Free Transform Flyknit 833410-600,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Women's Training Nike Flyknit Zoom Agility Shoe 698616-005,Asics Running Shoes Men Coupon_370Nike Air Max 90 Boys Preschool Wolf Grey/Dark Purple Dust/White/Total Crimson Running Shoes V97920,, 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.

Womens Boots Anne Klein Grania Dark Brown 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, Adidas D Lillard 1.0 Boys Grade School Black/White/Scarlet Basketball Shoes V35731,Asics Running Shoes Women Coupon_401Adidas X 15.1 Fg/Ag Boys Grade School Black/Shock Mint/White Soccer Shoes V26266,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Shoes Anne Klein Fion Taupe 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 Badgley Mischka Glenna Silver Metallic Leather 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,Nike Flex Run 2015 Womens Chalk Blue/Hyper Orange/Varsity Maize/White Running Shoes V43738,Giuseppe Zanotti Sale Women Coupon_655Nike Lunaracer + 3 Womens Black/White/Hyper Orange/Vivid Purple Running Shoes V34657,, 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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Womens Sandals C Label Adler-14 Orange 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. Mr Lacy Smallies Laces CP360,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_745Kickers Infant Core Kick High Boot CP528,, 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 Junior Air Max 1 Trainer CP640,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_722Timberland Nursery 6 Inch Premium Waterproof Boot CP794,.

Family ties

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

Womens Boots Calvin Klein Zurie Black Cow Silk 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. 

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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. Jack & Jones Asger Parka CP1413,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_833VMU London Floral Embossed Bomber Jacket CP1547,.  

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, Antony Morato Fleece Short CP2076,Jimmy Choo Boots Women Coupon_677Nike Tribute Short CP2170,. 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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