Authentic 232436 Nike Shox R4 Men Black White 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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It is demanding work, Men's Basketball Shoe Nike Zoom KD 9 843392-100,Adidas Bounce Titan 2013 Men Coupon_048Men's Boot Nike SFB 8" Jungle Realtree 845168-990,.

"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 Boot Jordan Future 854554-100,Adidas Bounce Titan VI Men Coupon_080Men's Nike Air Max Tailwind 7 683632-103,, 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 NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT 717075-007,Adidas Bounce Titan VII Men Coupon_091Men's Nike Shoe Free Trainer 5.0 V4 White/Black/White,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's Golf Shoe Nike Lunar Control Vapor 849971-001,Adidas Bounce Titan III Men Coupon_064Men's Running Shoe Nike Flex Fury 2 819134-007,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes adidas Golf adiZERO Sport II Solar Blue/Running White/Glow Orange 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 AIR ZOOM ELITE 8 748588-020,Adidas Bounce Titan V Men Coupon_075Men's Shoe Air Jordan 5 Retro 136027-133,, 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 Air Zoom Pegasus 92 Premium 844654-003,Adidas Originals JS Men Coupon_152Men's Shoe Nike Free Train Instinct 833274-010,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men's Shoe Nike Magista Onda II TF 844417-708,Adidas Originals JS Men Coupon_135Men's Shoe Nike SB Zoom Dunk Low Pro 854866-331,. "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 Shoe Nike Zoom Mercurial Flyknit 844626-003,Adidas Originals JS Men Coupon_128Men's Training Shoe Nike Free Trainer 3.0 V4 749361-601,."

Womens Sandals Aerosoles Magic Plush Dark Blue 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 Shoe Nike Air Huarache Ultra Breathe 833147-400,Adidas Porsche Design IV Men Coupon_180NIKE AIR MAX 90 PREM Black/Metallic Silver/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

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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 ALDO Tiphanie Light 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, Nike Roshe One Boys Toddler Hyper Cobalt/Deep Ryl Blue/Varsity Maize/Blue Grey Running Shoes V58164,Adizero Rose II 773 Men Coupon_291Adidas Crazy 8 Boys Grade School Intense Pink/Cool Grey Basketball Shoes V60451,, 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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Womens Shoes Anne Klein Fion Black 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,Nike Air Max 2016 Womens Pink Blast/Laser Orange/White/Black Running Shoes V68763,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_497Nike Flex Experience Run 4 Womens Racer Blue/White/Chalk Blue Running Shoes V71882,, 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 Shoes Badgley Mischka Luster Platino Diamond Drill Fabric 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. Women's Nike Flex Experience Run 4 Black/Copa/White/Vivid Purple UK#N5-9004,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_588Nike Zoom Vomero 10 Womens Vivid Purple/Black/Hyper Orange/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V84695,, 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," Hunter Infant Original Chelsea Boot CP523,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_634Nike Junior Flight Huarache Trainer CP655,.

Family ties

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

Womens Sandals C Label Cider-2 Black 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, Creative Recreation Nursery Cesario Low Ripstop Trainer CP751,Giuseppe Zanotti Sale Women Coupon_651Jack & Jones Tim Original SC111 Jean CP879,, 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. Brave Soul Etihad Bomber Jacket CP1283,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_736FILA Pavo Puffer Jacket CP1371,.  

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, UCLA Pattern Puffer Jacket CP1544,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_733adidas Originals Sports Essential Fleece Short CP2060,. 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," Publish Brooks Short CP2199,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_810Ellesse Orbital Track Top CP3556,."

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