Discount 218253 Adidas Climacool Ride Women Pink Silver 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

Men's Shoe Jordan Eclipse Chukka 881453-003,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_825JORDAN MELO 11 Blue Graphite/Black/Game Royal/Metallic Silver,. Along with a group of Japanese colleagues, they will spend the day moving heavy wooden pilings and pouring concrete for the foundation of a seven-story condominium block. 

It is demanding work, Men's Shoe Air Jordan Trainer 1 Low 845403-001,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_836Men's Shoe Nike Air Max BW Ultra 819475-616,.

"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 Shoe Nike Air Presto Ultra Flyknit 835570-002,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_838Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33 RC 839729-304,, 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 Nike Dunk Retro QS 850477-700,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_830MEN'S NIKE BASKETBALL SHOE KD 8 749375-446,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's Shoe Nike Lupinek Flyknit Low 882685-100,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_841Men's Shoe Nike Train Ultrafast Flyknit 843694-010,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Sandals Anne Klein Viewer Black Fabric 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 Zoom Train Toranada 835657-003,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_862Men's Skateboarding Shoe Nike SB Clutch Dark 729825-004,, 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, NIKE INTERNATIONALIST Black/Dark Grey/Black/White,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_890NIKE LUNARTEMPO Total Orange/White/Black/Lyon Blue,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, NIKE SB ZOOM STEFAN JANOSKI CANVAS PREMIUM Anthracite/Black/Whit,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_903Women's Running Shoe Nike Flyknit Lunar 3 698182-406,. "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. "Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 90 Premium 443817-011,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_939Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Strong 843975-400,."

Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Gene Ivory Satin 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.Women's Shoe Nike FS Lite Run 3 807145-500,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_942Adidas Rose 3.5 Boys Toddler Joy Blue/Satellite/Altitude Basketball Shoes V60599,. 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

Adidas 2015 Crazylight Boost Primeknit Mens Bright Cyan/Black Basketball Shoes V42382,New Balance Men Coupon_1012Adidas D Rose 5 Boost Mens Base Green/Gold Met/Scarlet Basketball Shoes V11884,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

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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 Boots Calvin Klein Gigi Caribou Wide Calf Suede/Neoprene 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 Voloomix Mens Black/Vivid Red Slippers V29755,New Balance Men Coupon_1021Nike Air Max Ltd Mens Bright Crimson/Bright Crimson/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V41794,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Jeans Opel Black Vachetta Leather 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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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Hype Speckle Backpack CP65,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1260Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star Double Tongue Trainer CP486,, 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, Creative Recreation Junior Cesario Low XVI Trainer CP597,New Balance 751 Men Coupon_1298Nike Junior Air Max 90 Flash GS Trainer CP681,.

Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Collection Vina Gold/Black 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. Asylum Spray On Jean CP820,New Balance 891 Men Coupon_1303Antony Morato Full Zip New Tape Hooded Top CP973,.

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. Nicce Logo Hooded Top CP1104,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1329Vans Core Basics Zip Hooded Top CP1180,, 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," Condemned Nation Mormant Basket Weave Varsity Jacket CP1292,New Balance Women Coupon_1392Jack & Jones Tanno Pu Biker Jacket CP1416,.

Family ties

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

Womens Boots Clarks Purity Frost Black Suede 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, VMU London Wool Leather Bomber Jacket CP1551,New Balance 1600 Women Coupon_1405Condemned Nation Mcrae Short CP2106,, 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. Timberland 6 Inch Premium Waterproof Fabric Cuff Boot CP3765,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1429Clarks Originals Trigenic Flex Shoe CP3893,.  

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, adidas Originals Busenitz Trainer CP4026,New Balance 999 Women Coupon_1549adidas Originals Tubular X Trainer CP4153,. 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," Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Mono Trainer CP4270,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1513Cruyff Puente Diamond Trainer CP4413,."

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