Converse Chuck Taylor All Star High Trainer CP4264 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, Womens Sandals COACH Marla Saddle/Black,Womens Boots Anne Klein Lino Black LeatherWomens Sandals COACH Cindy Gunmetal/Black Metallic Pearl/Matte Calf,.

"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, Womens Sandals COACH May Black,Womens Sandals Anne Klein Minerva Black ReptilsWomens Shoes COACH Garland Black Soft Milled Leather,, 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. Womens Shoes COACH Chrissy Cornflower/Cornflower,Womens Boots Anne Klein Fabienne Black/Black SuedeWomens Boots Cole Haan Wesley Tall Boot Black,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Boots Cole Haan Briarcliff Boot Black Leather,Womens Boots Anne Klein Kahlan Wide Black Multi Wide Leather 1Womens Sandals Cole Haan Ravenna Wedge Roccia Snake Print,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Cheap r85t6 k2wbg6 August Deals Nike Air Max 1 Ultra Moire 1 Mens 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, Womens Shoes Cole Haan Air Bacara Ballet Metallic Winery Snake Print/Winery Suede,Womens Boots Anne Klein Fedya Taupe SuedeWomens Shoes Cole Haan Bethany Pump 65 Black,, 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, Womens Boots ECCO Sport Trace Zip Birch/Birch,Womens Shoes Anne Klein AK Sport - Undertake Black MultiWomens Shoes ECCO Aimee Slip On Black,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Shoes ECCO CS14 Casual Sneaker Marine/Marine/Morillo,Womens Sandals Anne Klein Olexia Bronze Multi/Black ReptileWomens Shoes ECCO Sport Yura GTX Black/Moon,. "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. "Womens Sandals GUESS Harlee Tan,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Petrica Black SuedeWomens Shoes GUESS Adalee Blue Multi Fabric,."

Discount knkk9 g29p27 August Deals Nike Air Max 1 Womens 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.Womens Shoes GUESS Gilby4 Black/White,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Rylie Cafe Latte LeatherWomens Boots Naturalizer Macnair Regular Shaft Black Leather,. 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.

"Womens Boots Naturalizer Tricia Black Smooth,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Petrica Grey Palm PrintWomens Sandals Naturalizer Oxygen White Leather/Cork Bottom,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes Naturalizer Yalena Black Leather,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Frisca Black SuedeWomens Shoes Naturalizer Oath Classic Navy Leather,," Kingston said.

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

Womens Shoes New Balance WXC5000v1 Spike Blue/Orange,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Able PurpleWomens Shoes New Balance XC900v2 Spikes Pigment/Pink Zing,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Shoes New Balance Classics 574 - Street Beat Blue/Orange,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Barnone BlackWomens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 4 Black/Hyper Punch/Cool Grey/Light Magenta,, 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, Womens Shoes Nike Juvenate Total Orange/White/Laser Orange,Womens Shoes Anne Klein AKBurrata Navy Multi FabricWomens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 Flash Noble Purple/Vivid Purple/Copa/Reflect Silver,, 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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Outlet ghhp3 ga3tne August Deals Nike Air Huarache Mens 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,Womens Boots Timberland Bethel Heights All Fit Tall Boot Dark Brown Euroveg/Suede,Womens Boots C Label Nata-11B PinkWomens Boots UGG Sumner Black,, 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.

Rakuten's push for global talent began in 2009, Womens Boots UGG Dayle Black Leather,Womens Boots C Label Topaz-3 BrownWomens Boots UGG Dayton Chocolate/Water Resistant Leather,.

Outlet zdgyd tp3t98 August Deals Nike Air Max 2015 Mens 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. Womens Sandals UGG Sadie Black,Womens Sandals C Label Gilda-4 BlackWomens Slippers UGG Aira Serape Skyline Jacquard,.

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. Womens Sandals Vaneli Maslyn Black Mag Patent/Black Elastic,Womens Sandals C Label Cider-4A Rose Gold/BlackWomens Sandals Vaneli Mandy White Ecco Nappa,, 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," Womens Shoes Vaneli Chineka Black E-Print/Mtch Elastic,Womens Shoes C Label Liberty-8B Old GoldWomens Shoes Vaneli Remy Cuoio Nubia Print,.

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, Womens Shoes Vaneli Ulma Black Satin,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Raylyn BrassNike Longball Piped,, 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 SB Icon Yarn-Dye Pullover,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Talloria BlackRunning Hooded Long Sleeve,.  

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, Women's Soccer Track Jacket,Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Vivian BlackWomen's adidas Infinite Series Supernova Bra,. 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," Boxer Shorts 2 pack,Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Mirian Sandstorm PatentMen's Montreal Impact Ultimate Raglan Tee,."

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