Discount 193687 Nike Air Max Shake Evolve Men Gray Green White 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, Adidas Porsche Design V Men Coupon_207,Authentic 166650 Nike Zoom Hyperdunk Men Orange ShoesAdidas Springblade 2013 Men Coupon_263,.

"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, Asics Mexico 66 Men Coupon_358,Comfortable 162760 Nike Zoom Hyperdunk Men Yellow ShoesAsics Running Shoes Men Coupon_383,, 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. Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_466,Authentic 173010 Nike Shox Rivalry Men White Blue ShoesChristian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_529,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Giuseppe Zanotti Sale Men Coupon_644,Shopping 178569 Nike Zoom Hyperfuse Low Men White Black Red ShoesJimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_707,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

adidas Originals Brion Track Top CP3520 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, Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_742,Comfortable 221672 Nike Zoom Hyperdunk Low Men Green Metallic Silver Grey ShoesJimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_826,, 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, New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1190,Comfortable 191917 Nike Zoom Hyperfuse Men Green Black ShoesNew Balance 574 Men Coupon_1285,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1320,Shopping 238637 Nike Zoom Kd III Men White Red ShoesNew Balance 574 Women Coupon_1442,. "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. "New Balance 751 Women Coupon_1518,Authentic 148184 Nike Zoom Kd IV Men Metallic Silver Total Orange Dark Grey ShoesNew Balance 999 Women Coupon_1558,."

Toms Paseo Shoe CP3940 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 Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1670,Cheap 221736 Nike Zoom Kd 4 Men Black White Royal ShoesNike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1809,. 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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Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Max 2017 849559-001,Comfortable 243334 Nike Zoom Kobe VI Men Black Yellow Purple ShoesMen's Running Shoe Nike Free 4.0 717988-064,, 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, Men's Running Shoe Nike LunarTempo 2 818097-401,Buy 200827 Nike Zoom Kobe VI Men Black White Green ShoesMen's Shoe Jordan Jumpman Team II 819175-010,, 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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New Balance ML373 Trainer CP4558 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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Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Breathe Trainer CP4708 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)

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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 D Rose Lakeshore Mens Solar Blue/Black Basketball Shoes V75441,Inexpensive 154590 Puma Future Cat Super Lt Men Black Red White ShoesAdidas Pureboost 2 Mens Grey/Black/Green/White Running Shoes V56675,, 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.

Nike Air Max 90 Sneakerboot Winter Trainer CP4849 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 Zoom Structure 19 Mens Black/Volt/Blue Lagoon/White Running Shoes V30120,Buy 204726 Nike Air Max Unisex Black Jade White ShoesNike Free 4.0 Flyknit 2015 Mens Black/Hyper Orange/University Blue/Sail Running Shoes V20551,, 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 Air Huarache Run Ultra Womens Total Crimson/Total Crimson Running Shoes V80902,Authentic 230371 Adidas Springblade Razor Women Blue Black ShoesNike Air Max 2016 Womens Purple Smoke/Hyper Orange/Violet Ash/Black Running Shoes V70574,.  

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 Flex Run 2015 Womens Chalk Blue/Hyper Orange/Varsity Maize/White Running Shoes V43645,Discount 213150 New Balance Mw659 Unisex Black ShoesNike Shox Nz Womens White/Cool Grey/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V90466,. 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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