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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"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 Air Jordan Ol'School Off Court Shoes Men Black/Dark Grey,Men Panama Jack Panama 03 Ankle Boots - Rubber - Velour Grass Honey - 5310873tdAdidas Springblade Pro Running Shoes Men White/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. Nike Air Max 2016 Print Running Shoes Men Red/Black,Men Pantofola D oro Sardinia Men Flip Flops - Rubber - Tortoise Shell - 7134726tyNike Air Max Bw Ultra Running Shoes Men Navy,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Air Zoom Elite 8 101 Running Shoes Men Black/White/Grey/Dark Grey,Men Pataugas Rocker Trainers - Rubber - Black - 1113790enNike Flex 2016 Rn Running Shoes Men Black/White/Grey,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Adidas Men 's ZX 8000 Boost Black/Orange/White B24954 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 Fs Lite 3 Running Shoes Men Black/Dark Grey,Men Puma Faas 600 V2.5 Sport Shoes - Rubber - Black Silver - 3244001gsReebok Furylite Gp Running Shoes Men Wolf Grey /White,, 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, Jordan CP3 VIII "03" Long-Sleeve Crew 632053-011 Black/Anthracite/Anthracite,Men Puma Bmw Ms Drift Cat 6 Nm Sport Shoes - Rubber - Blue - 6034538zrJordan I Love NY 642459-010 Black/Gym Red,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Jordan Stay Cool Compression Sleeveless 642354-091 Cool Grey/Black/Cool Grey,Men Redskins Tozzi Ankle Boots - Rubber - Black - 4911678cpLeBron "Floor General" 645143-494 Blue Graphite/Pink Pow/Light Blue Lacquer,. "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. "NFL Atlanta Falcons Game Jersey (Julio Jones) 479377-103 White/Gym Red/Black,Men Reebok Reebok Zcut Tr 2.0 Sport Shoes - Rubber - Faux Indigo Cycle Blue Black White - 336747cqNFL Chicago Bears Limited Jersey (Brandon Marshall) 468916-464 Marine,."

Adidas Campus Branch Footwear White Mens Suede Low-top Sneakers Trainers 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.NFL Denver Broncos Limited Jersey (Von Miller) 479205-420 College Navy/Brilliant Orange,Men Rider Maiorca Thong Flip Flops - Synthetics - Brown Black - 4624895axNFL Indianapolis Colts Limited Jersey (Andrew Luck) 468924-439 Gym Blue,. 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.

Saucony Grid SD Men 's Grey/Teal 702174 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 College Basketball Performance Fleece FZ (Connecticut) 00030274X-UC1 College Navy,Men Rondinaud Derval Slippers - Rubber - Black - 8940585hiNike College Logo Long-Sleeve (Washington) 00029770X-WH1 Court Purple,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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adidas Shoes 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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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 COUNTRY OG WHITE/NAVY BLUE sz US 7-11 Japan limited G27443 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 Flight Lite High White University Red (329984-103),Adidas Originals ZX 700 Mens Suede Shoes Grey Light Blue RedNike Air Force 1 Low Cement Atomic Teal Anthracite,.

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 Mid Bel Air Blue Black Purple Neon,Adidas ZX 8000 Black Purple Light Blue Mens Running ShoesNike Air Jordan 4Lab1 Glow Silver Black White,, 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 BR Breeze Pure Platinum Navy,Men's Shoes Adidas Originals ZX 700 Lithe Black White Yellow PinkNike Air Max 1 Ultra Moire OG Red White Challenge 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, Nike Air Max 90 Essential LTR Black Mortar Mine Grey,Mens Mesh Running Shoes Nike Roshe Run 2014 Summer Total Orange White Military BlueNike Air Max Hyperposite All Star Game Area 72 (583113-200),, 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 Classic Cortez Leather Baroque Brown Bamboo Red Clay,Mens Trainers Adidas Originals ZX 630 Black Navy White RedNike Flight 13 Mid Black Photo Blue Pure Platinum,.  

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 Free 4.0 Flyknit Black Hyper Orange Copa Blue,New Balance NB 420 Black Blue Grey Yellow Mens SneakersNike Huarache NM Pink Pow Blue,. 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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