Authentic 242578 Nike Shox R2 Men 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, Women's Shoe NikeCourt Zoom Cage 2 705260-413,Shopping 168803 Nike Zoom Kobe VI Men Black White Red Shoes,Nike Roshe One Boys Preschool Light Crimson/White/Racer Blue/Obsidian Running Shoes V60944,, 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. Adidas Springblade Drive 2 Boys Grade School Black/Solar Blue/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V27481,Discount 211535 Onitsuka Tiger By Asics Mexico 66 Men Red Wine Shoes,Nike Air Max Thea Girls Grade School Anthracite/White/Black Running Shoes V11235,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Adidas D Rose 5 Boost Mens Black/Onix/White Basketball Shoes V23665,Cheap 202157 Puma Speed Super Lite Men Yellow Shoes,Adidas Adizero Tempo 7 Mens Midnight Grey/Solar Red/Raw Ochre Running Shoes V64265,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Sandals Vaneli Kiona Black Mag Patent/Gunmetal Buckle 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, Adidas D Rose Mens Aluminum/Black/Light Scarlet Slippers V10119,Discount 207936 Adidas Originals Superstar 2.0 Unisex Blue Black Shoes,Nike Air Max 2016 Mens Summit White/White/Black Running Shoes V79537,, 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 Air Max 90 Womens Pure Platinum/Gym Red/Total Crimson Running Shoes V69944,Comfortable 210572 Air Jordan 10 Women White Verde Black Shoes,Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit 2015 Womens Racer Blue/University Blue/Blue Tint/Black Running Shoes V71441,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Tri Fusion Run Womens Hyper Pink/Dark Grey/White/Metallic Platinum Running Shoes V59221,Cheap 169157 Asics Gel Kinsei 4 Women Yellow Green Shoes,Men's Nike Zoom Winflo 2 Wolf Grey/Anthracite/Racer Blue/White UK#N5-8897,. "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. "Nike Kids Jr Magistax Pro TF Soccer Black/Volt/White/Volt UK#N5-9584,Authentic 223996 Air Jordan VII Retro Women Grey Pink Shoes,Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Womens Lucid Green/Black/Chalk Blue/Racer Blue Running Shoes V62476,."

Womens Shoes Vaneli Amalee Black Smack 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.Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star Party High Trainer CP497,Discount 153856 Nike Air Flightposite 1 Women Metallic Blue Shoes,Nike Junior Free Run 2 Trainer CP646,. 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

Native Youth Quilted Icelandic Parka Jacket CP1457,Buy 163219 Nike Classic Cortez Women Red Purple Shoes,Glorious Gangsta Karcher Knit CP1801,, 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 Dri-FIT Full-Zip 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, Ellesse Pisa Small Logo Flip Flop CP3834,Buy 227464 Nike Free 3.0 V4 Women Red Gold Purple Shoes,adidas Originals Superstar East River Rivalry Trainer CP3986,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Men's EQT Logo Tee 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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Men's adizero Split Shorts Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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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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Women’s Shorts 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. Womens Sandals Clarks Tresca Track Sage,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_786,Womens Shoes Clarks Delsie Joy Black Leather,, via a loyalty point system.

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Family ties

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

Nike Rally Tight 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. Womens Shoes ECCO Abelone Slip On Mahogany,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1198,Womens Shoes ECCO Sport Biom Train Black/Morillo,.  

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 Boots Hunter Original Patent Pac Boot Bright Peacock,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1280,Womens Sandals Naturalizer Nerice Saddle Tan Leather,. 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 Naturalizer Kaster Grey Suede,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1436,Womens Shoes New Balance WT610v4 Thunder/Pink Zing,."

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