Men's Nike KD 7 All Star Basketball Shoes Grey/Orange/Royal Blue 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, Creative Recreation Kaplan Patent Suede Trainer,Black Friday - 2006 Nike Air Jordan VII 7 Retro PEARL CERAMIC ORANGE PACIFIC BLUE SZ 8 flint ogNew Balance M574 Trainer,, 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 Kyrie II 'Omega' Trainer,Black Friday - NIKE ARCHIVE 75.M TRAINERS NEW MENS RETRO CASUAL RUNNING SHOES UK 8Nike LeBron XIII 'On Court' Trainer,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Armani Jeans Classic Jacquard Trainer,Black Friday - NIKE AIR VICTOR CRUZ TRAINER SZ 14 LIGHT BONE WHITE IN HAND 777535 003Supra Owen Trainer,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Unisex Shoes Red 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, Original Penguin Legit Suede Shoe,Black Friday - Nike Air Yeezy imperial blk/gold Authentic Rare size 11Reebok Workout Plus Low Trainer,, 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, 100% Top Quality Nike Kobe 8 VIII Elite System Poison Superhero Pack Green 13KJ-9866 for Men,Discount Nike Shoes - 2015 Nike Air Jordan Retro 1 High OG CHICAGO Sz 10.5 BULLS WHITE BLACK RED BRE2018 Latest Nike LUNARSTELOS SZ 8 running 2016 95 2009 Grey 59EO261 for Men,.

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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. "Affordable Price Nike Foamposite All Star Chromeposite QS Mirror foams 70FF-0943 for Men,Discount Nike Shoes - 2014 Mens Nike Air Jordan III 3 Powder Blue Wolf Grey Black Size 11 Used RareAmazing Nike AIR MAX 1 ULTRA FLYKNIT VOLTAGE Sneaker 843384-301 MASTER ATMOS Green 13NK556 for Men,."

Quiksilver Mens Flip Flops Brown 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.Appealing Nike AIR MAX 1 LTR PREMIUM SZ 11.5 GRANITE POLKA DOT 705282 002 Black anthracite 38FB161 for Men,Discount Nike Shoes - 2016 Nike Air Jordan 4 Retro LS Legend Blue Size 12Attractive Nike LeBron Soldier 10 SFG Gum Black 19809596 for Men,. 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.

Ted Baker Mens Smart Black Leather 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, Best Selling Puma Roma Basic Size 28MH-0368 for Men,Factory Price - NEW DS Nike Air Jordan 12 Xii Retro SZ 11 Gym Red White OG 130690-600Best-selling Puma Bioweb Speed 18694208 Victoria Fluo New Blue Yellow 42PF991 for Men,, 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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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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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. Counter Genuine Nike NEW Lunarepic Low Flyknit ROUGH PALE 843764-303 sz 14 Grey Black Green 87DT-3319 for Men,Low-cost direct - Nike Air Diamond Turf VI Mens 725155-002 Black Cobalt Training Shoes Size 8Supply Converse All Star Chuck Taylor Low 29TE-5751 for Men,, 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.

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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. Very Cheap Nike AIR FOOTSCAPE WOVEN CHUKKA NM SZ 10.5 875797 001 Black White anthracite 33RF876 for Men,Weekend Discount - Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro Low Sz 10.5 Trooper Olive Green No Swoosh 848775-205Vintage Nike Size 11 AF 1 Premium 'Fantastic 4' ( Pre Owned 7 10 Cond 92813793 for Men,.  

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.

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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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