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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, Inexpensive 195815 Nike Dunk High Men Shoes,Comfortable 166118 Air Jordan 12 Retro Men Black Red Gamma Blue ShoesInexpensive 222709 Nike Dunk SB Low Men White Yellow Blue Shoes,, 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. Comfortable 169858 Nike Dunks Low Men Black Green Uncle Shoes,Inexpensive 173328 Air Jordan 14 Retro Men Grey White Blue ShoesShopping 191424 Nike Free 3.0 V4 Men Gray Brown White Shoes,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Authentic 221999 Nike Free 4.0 V2 Men Red White Shoes,Inexpensive 229210 Air Jordan 6 Retro Men White Purple ShoesBuy 167155 Nike Free Run Men White Black Shoes,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Adidas Crazy 97 Mens Mid Grey/Solar Blue/Orange Basketball Shoes V64240 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, Buy 203133 Nike Free Trainer Men Gray Red White Shoes,Comfortable 210756 Air Jordan After Game Men Black Red White ShoesShopping 160400 Nike Free Tr Fit 2 Men Green Grey White Shoes,, 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, Authentic 241092 Nike Roshe Run Men Brown Black White Shoes,Cheap 166158 Air Jordan Retro 14 Men Candy Cane White Black Red ShoesAuthentic 220528 Nike SB Dunk High Men Shoes,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Inexpensive 169530 Nike Shox Conundrum Men White Black Shoes,Cheap 149340 Air Jordan Retro Men Grey Grey White Grey ShoesDiscount 174842 Nike Shox R2 Men White Black Shoes,. "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. "Authentic 164317 Nike Shox R4 Men Black Shoes,Comfortable 185838 Air Jordan Retro Men Grey Light Graphite White Grey ShoesComfortable 167540 Nike Shox R4 Men Black Shoes,."

Adidas Adissage Mens Dark Grey/Base Green/Light Brown Slippers V49168 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.Discount 225406 Nike Shox Rivalry Men Black Pink Shoes,Shopping 199066 Air Jordan IX Retro Men White Blue Flint Grey ShoesBuy 150318 Nike Zoom Hyperdunk Men Red Metallic Silver Shoes,. 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.

Nike Cortez Mens Black Running Shoes V12564 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, Discount 202374 Air Jordan 11 Retro Women White /White Citrus Shoes,Discount 216455 Asics Gt2000 Men Black Orange ShoesAuthentic 188431 New Balance Wr00 Women Purple Green Shoes,, 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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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. New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1451,Buy 237236 New Balance Mx623V2 Men Black ShoesNew Balance 998 Women Coupon_1543,, 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. Men's Nike Shoe Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Ishod Wair 819674-019,Cheap 219464 Nike Air Force 1 Men Berlin ShoesMen's Running Shoe Nike LunarEpic Flyknit 818676-014,.  

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.

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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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