RKMI803SGSD Townsen - Classic Sweet Pea Aztec L/S Hang Loose Top 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, Nike Air Force 1 Mid White White Varsity Red,Air Max 90 Shoes Green White BlackNike Air Force 1 Premium Low Mens Shoes in Navy/Khaki/White,, 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. Nike Air Force 1 Supreme Low Mens shoes in Black white blue,Air Max 90 Shoes Black White GreenNIKE Air Jordan 1 I Low Crocodile White,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. NIKE Air Jordan 11 XI Retro Cool Greys Grey White,Air Max 90 Shoes Blue Grey Black WhiteNIKE Air Jordan 17 XVII OG LOW White Blue Chrome,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Cheep Jimmy Choo 6.5Cm High-Heeled Shoes Wome VGF0459 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 Air Jordan 22 XX2 PE Seattle,Air Max 90 Shoes Golden Green BlackNIKE Air Jordan 4 IV Fusion White Black Red Cement Gray,, 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 Blazer High Premium SB Purple Suede,Air Max 90 Shoes White BlueNike Shox R4 Men White Black Shoes,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Shox TL3 Men White Silver Black Shoes,Air Max 90 Shoes White Red1Puma Sprint 2 Lux NM Trainers Black White,. "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 Air Jordan 1 Retro High OG Shoes,Air Max 95 Shoes Black Red SilverMen's Air Jordan 14 Retro Wolf Grey/Cool Grey/White/Sport Blue,."

Cheep Nike Kyrie 2 Men'S Basketball Shoes VGF2988 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.Men's Air Jordan 7 Retro White/Black/Bright Concord/University Red,Air Max 95 Shoes Black WhiteMen's Air Jordan Trainer 1 Low Soar/Black/White,. 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.

"Men's Air Jordan XXXII Low Navy/Yellow,Air Max 95 Shoes White Red BlackMen's Jordan CP3.IX Black/Blue Lagoon/Bright Concord/Laser Orange,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Men's Jordan Flight Flex Trainer 2 Orange,Air Max 95 Shoes Color WhiteMen's JORDAN HYDRO 4 RETRO White Red,," 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

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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.

Cheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3492 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, Men's LeBron XII Low Photo Blue/Gym Blue/Artisan Teal/Hot Lava,Air Max BW Shoes White Stone Black 2Men's Nike Air Flight Huarache Black/Pink Pow/White/Light Retro,, 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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Air Jordan 11 Retro Low White Black-Concord 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,Men's Nike Explorer 2 White/Black,Air Max TN Shoes White Silver BlackMen's Nike Flex Run 2015 White/Blue Graphite/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, Men's Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit Hyper Crimson/Bright Citrus/Laser Orange/Black,Jordan Olympia (White/Varsity Red/Black/Metallic Gold) 323096-161Men's Nike Free Hypervenom 2 Black/White/Black,.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Men's Nike Free RN Flyknit White/Black,MBT Men's kisumu Sandals - OffWhiteMen's NIKE FREE TRAINER V7 Total Crimson/University Red/Pure Platinum,.

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. Men's Nike Hyperdunk 2015 (Team) Orange Blaze/Bright Citrus/White/Metallic Silver,MBT Men's kisumu Sandals - BlackMen's NIke Hypervenom Phantom III DF FG Laser Orange,, 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.

Kid's Sneaker Nike Dynamo Free Shoes White/Yellow 301 Hot 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, Men's Nike Lunar Command 2 White/Blue Jay/Solar Red/Armory Navy,Men's Nike Dunk High Custom Light Grey White BlackMEN'S NIKE LUNAR TRAINER 1 Black/University Red/White,, 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. Men's NIKE MAGISTAX FINALE II TF Volt/Total Orange/Pink Blast/Black,Men's Nike Dunk High Pro SB Supreme RedMEN's NIKE MERCURIAL SUPERFLY V CR7 SE QUINTO TRIUNFO GOLD/GREY,.  

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, Men's Nike Mercurial Veloce III Dynamic Fit AG-PRO Laser Orange/White/Volt/Black,Men's Nike Dunk High Premium x Cassette PlayaMen's Nike MercurialX Proximo II IC University Red/Bright Crimson/Black,. 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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