Low-cost direct -  Converse Men'S Grey All Star Sneakers Size 10 Z80o3134 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, 100% Quality Diadora Game L Low Trainers Men 2887-2401,* Black Red Adidas Men Iii PorscheBest BOSS Green by Hugo Boss Lighter Trainers Men 2965-4672,, 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. 60% Off Discount ASOS Gladiator Sandals Leather With Tie Lace Men 4045-8883,* Black Orange Men's 2011 Leather Air Max Shoes2017 Best Adidas Originals Stan Smith TrainersMen 6956-7064,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Asics Black Gel Kayano 21 Stabilty Running Shoes Sole Rubber Cupsole,* Black Red Men's 2012 Leather Air Max ShoesAsics Cosmoracer Ld Black Coral Track And Field Shoes Unisex,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

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The demand for construction workers is intensifying before the 2020 Olympics, Asics Gel-Foundation Walker 3 Walking Shoes White Silver Mens,* Black Red Air Max 95 MenAsics Gel-Quantum 360 Orange Ink Running Shoes Mens,, 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, Green Pony Britain Big Hoodie,* Black White Nike Men's Air Max Humara ShoesMen Asics Colour Volleyball Shoes Gel-Upcourt Tiger Black Silver,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men Asics Lite-Show Running Shoes Colour B Gel-Cumulus 17 Yellow Orange Flash,* Black White Blue Nike Men Air Max ShoesMen Asics Track Shoes Colour Jet Slate Cosmoracer Md Dark Blue White,. "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 Ralph Lauren Shoes Lace-Up Sleek,* Black Yellow Ai Max Terra Ninety MenMen Short Sleeve Tees Ralph Lauren Rugby &Quot Polo&Quot Logo N,."

Under Armour  Fat Tire Flip Flop  Men's 71264 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.Pony Britain Big Hoodie,* Black White Yellow Adidas Men ShoesRalph Lauren Men Short Sleeve Tees Furniture Spain,. 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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Adidas UK Shop - Adidas Tubular X Primeknit Shoes (Blue) for Men,* Blue Black White Men Air Max 87Adidas UK Shop - Adidas Energy Boost 3 Shoes (Grey) for Men,, the government's trainee program has allowed them to hold on to their livelihoods.

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.

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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, Adidas UK Shop - Adidas ZG Bounce Shoes (Black) for Men,* Blue Mens Shoes Air Max BwAdidas UK Shop - Adidas Orlando City SC Home Replica Jersey (Purple) for Kids,, 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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Adidas Americana Hi 88 Men Lifestyle Shoes Red/Vapor White IK97P 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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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Ridotto ASICS White gel sole running trainers-Men Per Cheap,* Men Air Max Black Red White 2009Adidas Men Spezial Green,.

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. ASICS Men Gel-lyte III Ns Blue,* Men Green White Black Air Max 90Latest Nike Men Air Force 1 High '07 Black,, 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," Latest Nike Men Benassi Jdi Print Red,* Men White Blue Black Air Max 90PUMA Men Blaze Knit Red,.

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. 

Among those whose skills are in great demand is Marliezl Abud, Vans Men Authentic Gum Sole Red,* Nike 2014 Air Max 90 Black Gray Red Shoes Lunar Men'sCheap Vans Men Old Skool Blue,, 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. DU/ER RAD Pocket Slim Denim Pant Men's 64792,* Nike Air Max 90 Blue Black White Prm Hyperfuse Men'sMarmot Rockmoore Pant Men's 64988,.  

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, RVCA All Time Chino Pant Men's 65136,* Nike Air Max 90 Red Yellow Black Mens ShoesMarmot Pingora Pant Men's 65357,. 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," Patagonia Printed Wavefarer Board Short Men's 66823,* Nike Air Max Tn Cushioning Black Orange Shoes Men'sStoic Amphibious Board Short Men's 66978,."

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