Shop Nike Lebron Zoom Soldier 7 Galaxy 599264-403 Farruq Fahlevi, left, and Muhamad Irvan Gustian, both from Indonesia, work on a farm harvesting cabbages in Ibaraki Prefecture. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)
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Famous for its resistance to immigration, Japan opens its doors

Number of foreign workers doubles in five years as nation faces labor crisis

DC / LEGENDZ STAR S/S SNOW WHITE ADYZT03989-WBB0,Shop Nike Zoom Lebron Soldier 6 PE Bird Storm,DC / STAR ZH BLACK / WHITE EDYSF03108-KVJ0,. 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. 

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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, ROXY / CREW DANCING ON S/S HERITAGE HEATHER ERJZT03524-SGRH,Shopping Cheap Kobe 7 Elite "Away" Black Metallic Gold 511371-001,SUPRA / KIDS SKYTOP GREY / BLACK / WHITE S13039K-GBW,, 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. HAND SPINNER / BASIC RED / BLACK,Shopping Cheap Kobe 8 Green Red Black,GARAGE / VO3172B BLACK / PURPLE VO3172B,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. DC / CHINOOK 6 MONUMENT EDYAA03021-SLE0,Shopping Cheap Kobe 8 PP Blue Green,DC / YA HEARD FXFT BLACK / LIGHT HEATHER ADYHA00141-XKSR,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Basketball Hyperdunk-0009 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, VANS / BEACH GIRL TRUCKER SNOW CAMO V00H5LSHE,Shopping Cheap Kobe 8 Pit Viper Pink Plum Black White 583112 600,BURTON / DAY HIKER BP 25L TRUE BLACK RIPSTOP 152861-020,, 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 Nike Victory Solid Golf Polo (University Blue),Top Sale Cheap Air Jordan Horizon University Red,Men's Quest Pac 400g Winter Boots (Brown),.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men's REEBOK ZPump Fusion Sneakers (WHITE),Top Sale Cheap Air Jordan XX8 SE Raptors Dark Concord Infrared 23-Black 616345 523,Men's SEIRUS Hyperlite All Weather Ultra-Thin Weatherproof Glove/Liners (BLACK),. "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 TIMBERLAND PRO Pit Boss Steel Toe Work Boots Medium (BLACK),Top Sale Cheap Air Jordan XX8 SE University Blue White Black,Men's UNDER ARMOUR Crusher Football Cleats (BLACK),."

Nike Football-0032 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 Under Armour Storm Crew Neck Golf Sweater (True Gray Heather),Top Sale Cheap Air Jordan XXX Black Cat,Nike Aerobill Featherlite Visor (White/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

Nike Free45-0924,Where to Buy Cheap Curry 2.5 Sun Wukong Monkey King,Basketball Kobe-0555,, 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 Free44-0226 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, Jordans 9-0095,Where to Buy Cheap Curry 2.5 White Blue Red,Jordans KID 11C-3y-0343,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

MAN Max 2017-0038,Where to Buy Cheap Curry One Chinese New Year PE,Basketball WALL-0014,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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Basketball Rose-0008 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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Adidas Adria PS - LabGreen/LabGreen/White Sale Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

Nike Free45-0744,Where to Order Cheap Jordan Super.Fly 5 PO Black Gym Red 881571-002,Jordans Sandals-0154,. technology companies like Google and Uber in the emerging fields of autonomous driving, artificial intelligence, ride-sharing and the internet of things. In these new fields, the flow of ideas -- and people -- is vital.

"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,MAN Max 2016-0126,Wholesale Cheap Nike KD 9 Elite Yellow Black PE,Air Force LOW-0357,, 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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Adidas Equipment Running Cushion - Black/Running White/Carbon  Online Shop 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. Man Air Max 2010-0056,Australia Nike Dual Fusion Run3 Running Shoes Mens Grey/Blue 411654NA,Nike Free44-0908,.

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. Nike wonen Flyknit-0113,Australia Nike Hypervenom Phade Indoor Court Trainers Shoes Mens White/Black/Org 623910UO,Basketball James-0504,, 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," Jordans KID 11C-3y-0271,Australia Nike Zoom Without Basketball Shoes Mens Black/Silv/Wht 863824DA,Basketball kyrie-0004,.

Family ties

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

Adidas LA Trainer - MGSOGR/BOONIX/SILVMT Shop 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, Air Force LOW-0305,Hot Nike Flex Show Training Shoes Mens Charcoal/Orange 399075DG,Nike Free45-0534,, 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. Man Max TN-0173,NZ Nike Dart 12 Sn63 Shoes Mens Anthrac/Wht/Red 640417TP,Basketball Durant-0212,.  

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, Air Force HIGH-0054,NZ Nike Hypervenom Phelon II TF Trainers Shoes Mens Mtlc Red/Black 171356OK,Nike Flyknit-0130,. 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 Free44-0757,Online Nike Downshifter 6 Trainers Shoes Mens Black/Red 566754GI,Nike wonen Flyknit-0078,."

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