Inexpensive 205475 New Balance Mw659 Unisex Grey 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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It is demanding work, Men's Shoe Jordan Eclipse 724010-035,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_715Men's Shoe Jordan Rising High 2 844065-003,.

"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 Max 90 Ultra 2.0 SE 876005-300,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_755Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 806770-010,, 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 Air Presto Ultra Flyknit 835570-401,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_727Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Terra Kiger 3 Premium 831388-500,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's Shoe Nike Free RN LE 850493-007,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_739Men's Shoe Nike LunarCharge Essential BN 933811-070,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes ALDO Viadien Purple 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 Roshe Tiempo VI FC 852613-001,Jimmy Choo Bridal Women Coupon_741Men's Shoe Nike Zoom All Out Low 878670-800,, 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 AIR ZOOM PEGASUS 31 Vapor Green/White/Flash Lime/Black,Jimmy Choo heels Women Coupon_769NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT Pink Pow/Bright Mango/Fireberry/Black,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, NIKE LUNARGLIDE 6 White/Total Orange/Peach Cream/Black,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_780Nike Unisex Running Shoe Zoom Streak LT 2 599532-308,. "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 Running Shoe Nike Flyknit Lunar 3 698182-407,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_803Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 1 Ultra LOTC (Paris) 747105-300,."

Womens Shoes Anne Klein AKUndone Black/Black Fabric 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 Air Rift Premium QS 848502-600,Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_827Women's Shoe Nike Free TR 6 833413-160,. 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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Adidas Crazy 97 Mens Light Scarlet/Blue/White Basketball Shoes V62165,Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_901Adidas J Wall Mens Lucky Blue/Silver Met/Scarlet Basketball Shoes V62549,, 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.

Womens Sandals C Label Milan-28 Black 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 Pure Boost Mens Black/White/Clear Grey/City Blur Running Shoes V33654,Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_928Adidas Originals Adilette Mens Brazil/Green/Yellow/Blue Slippers V41115,, 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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Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Jeans Valeri Black Safiano Leather Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

Men's Nike Prime Hype DF II Cool Grey/Black/Metallic Silver/Reflect Silver UK#N5-9028,New Balance 410 Men Coupon_1102Nike Kids Roshe One Print Copa/White/Blue Lagoon UK#N5-9546,. technology companies like Google and Uber in the emerging fields of autonomous driving, artificial intelligence, ride-sharing and the internet of things. In these new fields, the flow of ideas -- and people -- is vital.

"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Women's Nike Flex Flury Copa/Blue Lagoon/Stratus Blue/Black UK#N5-9019,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1138Hype Speckle Backpack CP63,, 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, adidas Originals Infant Superstar Foundation Trainer CP466,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1164adidas Originals Junior LA Trainer CP587,.

Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Nodine Cocoon 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. adidas Originals Nursery ZX Flux Trainer CP709,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1200Asylum Spray On Jean CP820,.

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. Condemned Nation Beccles Hooded Top CP983,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1255Nicce Fleece Hooded Top CP1107,, 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," Antony Morato Badge Parka CP1209,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1307Creative Recreation Silverwood Hooded Puffer Jacket CP1323,.

Family ties

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

Womens Boots CARLOS by Carlos Santana Haven Cognac 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, Luke 1977 Complete Showers Jacket CP1437,New Balance 891 Men Coupon_1301Nike Junior Free Run 2 Trainer CP665,, 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. adidas Originals Brion Track Top CP3521,New Balance Women Coupon_1360Toms University Slip On Espadrille CP3807,.  

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, Fred Perry Byron Mid Suede Shoe CP3913,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1457adidas Originals Superstar Snake Pack Trainer CP4048,. 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," Asics Gel-Lyte III Trainer CP4205,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1475Cortica Epic Runner Trainer CP4311,."

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