Flossy Infant Polka Plimsole CP515 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

Womens Boots ALDO Ransome Cognac,adidas Originals Superstar RT Trainer CP4142Womens Shoes ALDO Eoweriri Black,. 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, Womens Sandals ALDO Chacien Tan,adidas Originals Tubular X Trainer CP4153Womens Boots Anne Klein Lino Taupe Synthetic,.

"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 Shoes Anne Klein AK Sport - Sloane Black,adidas Originals ZX Flux Mesh Trainer CP4163Womens Shoes Anne Klein Petrica Grey Palm Print,, 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 Anne Klein Tagalong Leopard Fabric,adidas Originals Hamburg Trainer CP4176Womens Shoes Anne Klein AKQualified Grey Multi Fabric,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Jude Black/Grey Calf Hair/Leather,adidas Originals ZX Flux Racer Asym Trainer CP4178Womens Boots C Label Cathy-8B Olive,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike 3 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 Sandals C Label Mollini-25 Black,Armani Jeans Tonal Suede Leather Trainer CP4190Womens Shoes C Label Adler-11 Blue,, 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 Shoes Calvin Klein Genavee Greige Leather,Asics Gel-Lyte V Trainer CP4227Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Cirilla Cocoon Leather,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Boots CARLOS by Carlos Santana Gramercy Wide Shaft Taupe,Bjorn Borg X110 Low Suede Trainer CP4259Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Seville Cobalt,. "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 Boots Clarks Kacia Garnet Dark Grey Leather/Grey Suede,Asics Gel-Lyte EVO 'Samurai Pack' Trainer CP4233Womens Boots Clarks Fianna Holly Black Leather,."

Nike Pro Classic Facet 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 Sandals Clarks Jaelyn Fog White,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Brea Leather Trainer CP4297Womens Sandals Clarks Paylor Pax Sage Synthetic,. 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 Shoes Clarks Florine Senna Black Patent Leather,Converse Star Player Wax Tech Ox Trainer CP4281Womens Shoes Clarks Tempt Appeal Black Snake Leather,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes Clarks Everlay Iris Black Leather,Converse Breakpoint Trainer CP4304Womens Boots COACH Zena Black/Black/Matte Rubberized Leather/Split Suede,," 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 Sandals COACH Marla Black,Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Woven Trainer CP4318Womens Sandals COACH May Gold,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Shoes COACH Lafayette Black/Black,Creative Recreation Kaplan D-Ring Linear Trainer CP4360Womens Shoes COACH Arlene Natural Wild Beast Soft Haircalf,, 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.

Men's Standard 19 2.0 Tee 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, Womens Boots Cole Haan Maxfield Shootie Black Suede/Ocelot Printed Haircalf,Creative Recreation Cesario Lo XVI Ripstop Trainer CP4364Womens Sandals Cole Haan Jillian Wedge Blazer Blue/Optic White Stripe Snake Print,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bethany Pump 65 Sahara Snake Print,Cruyff Santi Technical Trainer CP4414Unisex Shoes Converse Weapon Mid White/Red/Black,," he said. "I want to do more work." He says he wants to run a big farm in Indonesia one day, perhaps growing rice or coffee.

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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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Wholesale Trade 2017/18 Nike Free Socfly SDBlack Anthracite3.0 Mens Running Shoes Black On  mdvjGV7r 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 Shoes New Balance W1500v1 Blue/Pink,New Balance M530 Trainer CP4567Womens Shoes New Balance Wpacev1 Garnet,, 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 Shoes Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 4 Print Hyper Grape/Ivory/Hyper Jade/Obsidian,Nike Air Max Thea Trainer CP4602Womens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 V4 Black/White/Pure Platinum,.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Shoes Nike Lunar Lux TR Stealth/Pure Platinum/Wolf Grey/Pink Pow,Nike Paul Rodriguez CTD Canvas Trainer CP4649Womens Shoes Nike Golf Lunaradapt Light Ash/Hyper Grape/Ivory,.

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 Boots PATRIZIA Donjon Brown,Nike Free OG 2014 Trainer CP4666Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Versance Black,, 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 PUMA Match Lo Canvas Sport Black/White/Patina Green,Nike Air Force 1 '07 Premium Trainer CP4683Womens Shoes Reebok Train Fast XT Black/Pink/White,.

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 Boots Rocket Dog Hallie Black Galaxy,Nike Paul Rodriguez 9 R/R Trainer CP4730Womens Sandals Rocket Dog Rue Blue Dream Catcher,, 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. Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Ocie Modern Ivory/Desert Nude Modena Calf Leather/Talco Kid Leather,Nike LeBron XIII 'The Akronite Philosophy' Trainer CP4795Womens Shoes Saucony Triumph ISO Black/Pink,.  

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, Womens Shoes Superga 2311 Linu Sand,Nike Air Max 90 Mid Winter Trainer CP4853Womens Shoes Timberland Swazey Clog Wheat Forty Leather,. 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," Womens Boots UGG Kisses Mini Silver Hearts Suede,Nike Free Run 2 Trainer CP4873Womens Boots UGG Cassidee Chestnut,."

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