Authentic 219467 Nike Free Run 2 Women Black Red 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

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"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, NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT Dark Grey/Bright Crimson/Total Orange/Blac,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1625Nike MagistaX Proximo II IC Men's Indoor/Court Soccer Shoe 843957-060,, 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 SB PAUL RODRIGUEZ CITADEL Black/White,Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1683Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 2016 806772-001,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 1 Ultra 2.0 Flyknit Metallic 881195-001,Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1745Women's Shoe Nike Air Presto Ultra Flyknit 835738-300,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Mayra Steel Metallic Box 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, Women's Shoe Nike Flyknit Air Max 620659-404,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1632Women's Shoe Nike Juvenate Woven Premium 833825-001,, 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, Nike Cortez Boys Grade School Black/White/Nylon Running Shoes V35344,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1774Nike Roshe One Boys Grade School White/White/Wolf Grey Running Shoes V96322,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Adidas 2015 Crazylight Boost Primeknit Mens Vivid Red/Black Basketball Shoes V85543,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1778Adidas D Lillard 1 Mens White/Grey/Scarlet Basketball Shoes V91799,. "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 D Rose 773 Iii Mens Black/White Basketball Shoes V31043,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1767Adidas Solar Boost Mens Grey/Solar Red/Black Running Shoes V57082,."

Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Tonalea Tawny Tan 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.Adidas Ultra Boost Mens White/Clear Grey/Black Running Shoes V90370,Buy 170267 Nike Lunarelite 2 Women Gray Blue ShoesAdidas X 15.3 In Mens Solar Yellow/Frozen Yellow/Black Soccer Shoes V78256,. 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 Sandals Clarks Leisa Gianna Navy 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 Max 90 Womens Black/Metallic Hematite/Dark Grey Running Shoes V21841,Men's Baseball Cleat Nike Trout 2 Pro 807133-010Nike Air Zoom Winflo 2 Womens Chalk Blue/Racer Blue/Atomic Pink/Platinum Running Shoes V43846,, 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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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Brave Soul MJK Oslo Jacket CP1250,Men's Golf Shoe (Wide) Nike Lunar Fire 861458-100Hawksworth Mac Jacket CP1403,, 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. Converse Core Fleece Short CP2111,Men's Nike Air Max 90 ShoesCreative Recreation Toluca Swim Short CP2303,.

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. adidas Originals Itasca Track Top CP3531,Men's Nike Basketball Shoe Kyrie 2 819583-104Flossy Mens Plimsole CP3795,, 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," Clae Ellington Canvas Shoe CP3882,Men's NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT 717075-004adidas Originals Spezial Trainer CP4044,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes COACH Flash Platinum Metallic 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, adidas Originals ZX Flux Weave Trainer CP4159,Men's Nike Shoe Air Max 90 Mid Winter 806808-400Asics Gel-Lyte V 'Mesh City' Trainer CP4244,, 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 Roshe Run Trainer CP4626,Men's Nike Shoe Jordan Flight Runner 2 715572-005Nike KD VIII 'USA' Trainer CP4751,.  

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, Puma Suede Classic Trainer CP4889,MEN'S NIKE SHOE NIKE AIR MAX 95 OG 554970-131Reebok Furylite Trainer CP4994,. 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," Y3 Sprint Trainer CP5119,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 805941-001adidas Originals Womens Gazelle OG Trainer CP5255,."

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