Nike Hyperdunk 2016 Black 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, Unisex Mesh Shoes Adidas ZX Flux Grey Black Turquoise Blue,Nike KD 7 "Easter" Liquid Lime/Black-Vapor Green-Sunset,Nike Air Jordan Jumpman Team Ii Basketball Shoes Men Navy/White,.

"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, Nike Jordan Cp3 9 Ae Basketball Shoes Men Green/Metallic Silver,Nike KD 7 Lightning Uprising Purple/Blue-White,Nike Visi Pro Vi Nubuck Basketball Shoes Men Black/Dark Grey,, 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 Originals Tubular Runner Casual Shoes Men Deep Red/White,Nike KD 8 Nike Durant ShoesRoyal Blue/White-Green,Adidas Zx Flux Racer Asymetrical Casual Shoes Men Light Blue/Navy Blue/White,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Converse Chuck Taylor Mono Casual Shoes Men Black,Nike KD Trey 5 IV Black Grey,Nike Air Force 1 Low Casual Shoes Men Black/White,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

ADIDAS MEN 'S EQT SUPPORT ADV PK PRIMEKNIT CORE BLACK RUNNING WHITE BY9390 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, Nike Roshe One Premium Cb Casual Shoes Men Dark Grey/Dark Grey/Red/Black,Nike KD 9 Blue/Red-Grye-Multicolor,Puma Blaze Of Glory Street Dark Casual Shoes Men Burgundy/Brown/Black/Light Turquoise,, 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 Supreme Running Shoes Men Dark Grey/Purple/Grey,Nike Kobe 11 XI Blue/Purple-Black,Nike Flyknit Air Max Running Shoes Men Black/Light Red/Orange,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Fs Lite 3 Running Shoes Men Black/White,Nike Kobe 4 White/Black-Red Nike Kobe Shoes Top Sale,Nike Zoom Elite 8 Print Running Shoes Men Black/White/Platinum/Grey,. "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 Jordan Hydro 4 Slippers Men Orange/Red/Black,Nike Kobe 7 "All-Star" Galaxy,Nike Air Jordan Trainer St Training Shoes Men Black/White/Grey/Grey,."

Men 's adidas ClimaCool 02/17 Running Shoes Grey/Footwear White CG3346 GRY 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.Jordan AJ All Season Compression Long-Sleeve 642347-091 Cool Grey/Black,Nike Kobe 9 Low Royal Blue/Black,Jordan Dominate 622181-011 Black/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

NFL Minnesota Vikings Game Jersey (Christian Ponder) 599981-548 Court Purple/White/Gold/Ponder,Nike Kyrie 2 Midnight Navy/University Gold-University Red,NFL Pittsburgh Steelers Game Jersey (Ben Roethlisberger) 477318-100 White,, 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.

BA7267 adidas CLIMA COOL 1 CMF TACTILE BLUE 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 7" Phenom 2-in-1 619888-413 Light Blue Lacquer/Light Blue Lacquer/Blue Force,Nike Kyrie 3 White/Game Royal-Black,Nike AF-1 Low 659146-702 Volt/Black,, 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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MEN 'S SHOES SNEAKERS ADIDAS LITE RACER [DB1592] 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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adidas Originals X_PLR Knit Black White Red Men Running Shoes Sneakers BY9262 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. Nike Air Foamposite Pro Electric Green Black,Men Adidas Performance Nova Cushion Sport Shoes - Rubber - Blrovi Ftwbla Noiess - 8298551iw,Nike Air Force 1 Low Blazer Pack Strata Grey Sail,.

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 Air Jordan 1 High OG Gym Red,Men Azzaro Pioro Lace-up Shoes - Rubber - Black - 5674370lj,Nike Air Jordan 6 VI Retro Olympic 2012 White Navy,, 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," Nike Air Max 1 Dynamic Blue White,Men Birkenstock Boston Cuir M Sandals - Rubber - Black Mat - 9497344zu,Nike Air Max 90 Essential Black,.

Family ties

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

adidas Originals ZX Flux Camo Men 's Low Top Shoes White/Pearl Grey 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, Nike Air Max 90 Winter Anthracite Dark Grey,Men Clarks Originals Wallabee Run Loafers - Crepe - Sand Suede - 3324012ui,Nike Air Max Stutter Step 2 Anthracite Volt Pink,, 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. Nike Flex Supreme TR 3 Wolf Grey Black (653620-003),Men El Naturalista Meteo N211 Lace-up Shoes - Rubber - Black Black - 6300403pm,Nike Free 5.0+ Shield Dark Armory Blue Black,.  

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, Nike HyperChase EP Lt Retro Hot Lava Black (705364-480),Men Geox U S.Strada C U4224c Sandals - Rubber - Chestnutcamel - 4070777bs,Nike Jordan Flight Flex Trainer 2 Infrared 23 White Black,. 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.

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