Comfortable 159131 Nike Zoom Kobe VI Men Green Green Black Shoes 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, Men's Nike Shoe Air Max 90 Mid Winter 806808-002,Asics Running Shoes Men Coupon_379Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Max 2015 698902-080,.

"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, Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 3 749336-401,Asics Running Shoes Women Coupon_399Men's Running Shoe Nike LunarEpic Flyknit 818676-004,, 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. Men's Shoe Air Jordan 2 Retro Low 832819-606,Asics Gel-Quik 33 Women Coupon_392Men's Shoe Jordan Horizon 823581-010,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's Shoe Kobe XI Elite Low 4KB 824463-199,Christian Louboutin Sale Men Coupon_413Men's Shoe Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Essential 819474-001,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Sandals Aerosoles Yet Back Black 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, Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Mercurial R9 818675-003,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_446Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Elite 8 748588-402,, 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 Shoe NikeCourt Zoom Cage 2 705247-414,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_453Men's Training Shoe Nike Free Trainer 5.0 V6 719922-616,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men's Training Shoe Nike Zoom Train Complete 882119-004,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_467NIKE AIR MAX 2015 Classic Charcoal/Pink Pow/Total Orange/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. "NIKE AIR ZOOM PEGASUS 31 Vapor Green/White/Flash Lime/Black,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_508NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT Wolf Grey/Pink Pow/Total Orange/Black,."

Womens Shoes ALDO Afelisa Black 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.NIKE MAGISTA ONDA FG White/Vapor Green/Menta/Chrome,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_502Nike Victory XC 3 Unisex Track Shoe 654693-034,. 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.

Womens Shoes Anne Klein Barb Black Suede 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, Adidas Springblade Drive Girls Grade School Solar Pink/Black/Solar Blue Running Shoes V77461,Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_624Adidas Adizero Crazy Light 2 Mens Infrared/Black/White Basketball Shoes V60100,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Adidas D Rose 6 Mens Black/Gold/Purple Basketball Shoes V19106,Giuseppe Zanotti Sale Women Coupon_648Adidas Cosmic Boost Mens Black/White/Solar Blue Running Shoes V36306,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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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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Womens Sandals C Label Cider-1 Blue Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Men's Nike Dual Fusion Run 3 Black/Hyper Cobalt/Electric Green/Metallic Silver UK#N5-8743,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_854Men's Nike Hyperchase PRM Black/White/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9045,, 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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Womens Boots Calvin Klein Clancey Black Kid Suede 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. Sik Silk Small Logo Backpack CP89,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_897Creative Recreation Infant Cesario Low XVI Patent Ripstop Trainer CP509,.

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. adidas Originals Junior ZX Flux Techfit Trainer CP582,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_893Converse Nursery Chuck Taylor All Star High Canvas Trainer CP735,, 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," Jack & Jones Ben Original AKM046 Jean CP874,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_944Creative Recreation Sawtell Full Zip Hooded Top CP1010,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Dolly at 6pm.com 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 Tech Fleece AW77 Hooded Top CP1124,New Balance Men Coupon_1008Antony Morato Driver Jacket CP1219,, 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. Luke 1977 Horton Cable Knit CP1833,New Balance Men Coupon_1043Glorious Gangsta Hyatt Short CP2140,.  

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, UCLA Piped Swim Short CP2345,New Balance Men Coupon_1080Franklin & Marshall Crew Arch Logo Suit CP3618,. 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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