Comfortable 177988 Nike Lebron 11 Men Gold Black Grey 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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"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, New Balance Women Coupon_1351,Comfortable 152933 New Balance W1400V2 Women Blue Silver ShoesNew Balance 574 Women Coupon_1463,, 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. New Balance 999 Women Coupon_1555,Shopping 212034 Nike Air Force 1 Women Radiant Emerald ShoesNike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1571,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1642,Cheap 171350 Nike Air Max Women Grey Yellow ShoesNike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1650,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Air Max 90 Essential Trainer CP4670 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 Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1791,Discount 231977 Nike Air Force 1 Women Black White ShoesMen's Artificial-Grass Soccer Cleat Nike Hypervenom Phantom II AG 747490-108,, 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 Nike Hypervenom Phinish II FG 749901-308,Authentic 186510 Nike Air Max Women Grey Blue ShoesMen's Nike SB Stefan Janoski Max Unisex Shoe 631303-100,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men's Nike Training Shoe Jordan Flight Flex Trainer 2 768911-003,Authentic 165803 Nike Air Force 1 Women Pink White Total Orange ShoesMen's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Structure 19 Flash 806578-600,. "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's Shoe Air Jordan 14 Retro 487471-106,Cheap 166252 Nike Air Max Women Yellow Pink White ShoesMen's Shoe Jordan Eclipse 724010-126,."

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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.Men's Shoe Nike Air Force 1 Ultra Flyknit 817420-700,Buy 219669 Nike Air Max 1 Women Grey Purple White ShoesMen's Shoe Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Essential 819474-402,. 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.

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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, Nike Air Trainer SC High Men's Shoe 811648-146,Buy 210104 Nike Air Max Tailwind Women Black Blue ShoesNIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT Pure Platinum/Midnight Fog/Light Charcoal/,, 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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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Adidas Springblade Razor Womens Solar Blue/Tech Grey Metallic/Black Running Shoes V76184,Buy 172726 Nike Free Run 2 Women Gray Green ShoesAdidas Powerlift Trainer 2 Womens Flash Pink/White/Semi Solar Yellow Training Shoes V53810,.

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 Max 2015 Womens Black/Reflective Silver/White/Summit White Running Shoes V25288,Inexpensive 232790 Nike Free Run 2 Women Blue Orange ShoesNike Air Zoom Odyssey Womens White/Dark Grey/Pure Platinum/Black Running Shoes V91002,, 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. Toms Infant Classic Slip On Espadrille CP543,Discount 173194 Puma Anti-fur Women Black Pink ShoesNike Junior Air Jordan 4 Retro Trainer CP628,.  

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 Nursery Air Force 1 Low Trainer CP783,Adidas Bounce Titan 2013 Men Coupon_052Sik Silk Wash Rip Distressed Jean CP912,. 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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