Inexpensive 157758 Nike Air Max Men Light White Black Blue 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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"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, Cheap 192014 Nike Dunk Low Women Shoes,Buy 184052 Nike Lunarglide 3 Men Black Red ShoesShopping 209747 Nike Free 3.0 V4 Women Black Gray 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 178166 Nike Free Run 3 Women Pink Grey White Shoes,Buy 157177 Nike Lunarglide 3 Men Gray Yellow Blue ShoesInexpensive 195461 Nike Hyperdunk Women Blue Orange Shoes,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Cheap 216113 Nike Free Run Women Black Shoes,Authentic 227751 Nike Max Lebron VIii Men White ShoesAdidas Bounce Titan 2013 Men Coupon_032,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Condemned Nation Mia Bomber Jacket CP1294 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, Adidas Clima Cool 5th Men Coupon_106,Inexpensive 185082 Nike Max Lebron VIii Men White Black ShoesAdidas Porsche Design III Men Coupon_179,, 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, Christian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_540,Discount 154483 Nike Roshe Run Men Purple Electronic Green Whits ShoesChristian Louboutin Sale Women Coupon_617,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Jimmy Choo Boots Women Coupon_682,Shopping 208316 Nike Roshe Run Men Silver Grey White ShoesJimmy Choo heels Women Coupon_777,. "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. "Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_853,Buy 208383 Nike Roshe Run Men Dark Blue Steel Gray Lightning Yellow ShoesJimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_942,."

Condemned Nation Lynch Pique Jogger CP1606 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.New Balance Men Coupon_1038,Cheap 184382 Nike Lunarglide 3 Men Black Orange Anthracite ShoesNew Balance 501 Men Coupon_1124,. 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.

Nicce White Noise Swim Short CP2325 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 Basketball Shoe Jordan CP3.IX AE 833909-405,Cheap 154920 Nike Shox Conundrum Men White ShoesMen's Boot Nike Lunar Force 1 Duckboot 805899-003,, 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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Drome Neoprene Penny Loafer CP3907 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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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. Women's Shoe Nike Roshe LD-1000 819843-004,Shopping 200634 Nike Shox R4 Men Black ShoesNike Roshe One Girls Toddler Copa/White/Blue Lagoon Running Shoes V48524,, 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.

adidas Originals Topanga Trainer CP4180 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. 

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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 Max Sequent Mens Black/Wolf Grey/White/Metallic Hematite Running Shoes V38374,Shopping 243994 Nike Zoom Hyperdunk Men Orange ShoesNike Air Max 95 Mens Bronze/Bamboo/Gum Light Brown/Baroque Brown Running Shoes V42965,.  

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 Free Rn Mens Heritage Cyan/Black/Blue Spark/Laser Orange Running Shoes V58022,Discount 227094 Nike Zoom Hyperdunk Low Men White Red Black ShoesNike Tri Fusion Run Mens Cool Grey/University Red/White/Black Running Shoes V47654,. 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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