Jack & Jones Erik Rico JOS 816 Jean CP876 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 Shoes Anne Klein Haleema Black Leather,Hugo Boss Victoire Fiction Trainer CP4489Womens Shoes Anne Klein Youly Turquoise Multi Suede,. 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 Shoes Badgley Mischka Jenie Black Satin/Patent,Hugo Boss Gym Soft Trainer CP4490Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Gene Ivory Satin,.

"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 Boots C Label Sandra-9 Taupe,Hugo Boss Akeen Trainer CP4472Womens Sandals C Label Binky-7 Camel,, 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 C Label Clower-5 Light Grey,Lacoste Bowerey Trainer CP4512Womens Boots Calvin Klein Evee Black/Black Leather 1,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Boots Calvin Klein Collection Viviana Black,Hugo Boss Akeen Clean Trainer CP4495Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Collection Ura Nabuk Nude,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Birdseye Jogger 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 Shoes Calvin Klein Adela Black Nubuck Leather,New Balance ML574 Trainer CP4556Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Lina Black Cow Silk,, 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 Boots Clarks Volara Melody Rust Leather,New Balance ML373 Trainer CP4563Womens Boots Clarks Marlina Ramble Sand Leather,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Sandals Clarks Leisa Bloom Beige Leather,Nike LeBron XI Low Trainer CP4577Womens Sandals Clarks Brinkley Jazz Gold,. "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 Shoes Clarks Caswell Genoa Black,Nike Air Safari Trainer CP4609Womens Shoes Clarks Tarah Sofia Black Patent Leather,."

Women's Ultimate Fit Long Tights 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 Shoes Clarks Vailee Stone Black,Nike Stefan Janoski Canvas Dots Trainer CP4613Womens Boots COACH Dalla Chestnut Split Suede,. 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

Womens Boots Cole Haan Dorian Stretch Boot Black,Nike Roshe Run Trainer CP4625Womens Boots Cole Haan Barnard Boot Black Suede,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Shoes Cole Haan Elsie Open Toe Wedge II Rose Gold Metallic,Nike LeBron XII Trainer CP4680Womens Shoes Cole Haan Cambon High Sandal Cashew/Lizard Print,, 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.

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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 Shoes Cole Haan Pinch Grand Tassel Cabernet Suede,Nike Air Max 90 Essential Trainer CP4711Womens Shoes Cole Haan Pinch Campus Electra,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Womens Boots ECCO Sullivan Buckle Boot Black,Nike KD VIII 'Hunts Hill Sunrise' Trainer CP4757Womens Sandals ECCO Jab Toggle Sandal Dark Shadow/Metallic/Licorice,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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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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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Womens Shoes Nike Mercurial Victory V FG Blue Lagoon/Volt/Black/White,Puma Trinomic XT 1 Yin Yang Trainer CP4896Womens Shoes Nike Air Vapor Advantage Night Silver/Provence Purple/Vivid Purple,, 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.

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Buy 3iciu s8fbm7 August Deals ZX 10000 Womens 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. Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Yara Bordeaux,Reebok Ventilator Adapt Trainer CP4990Womens Shoes PUMA Match Lo Basic Sports Black/Black,.

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 Shoes Reebok Reebok Royal Lumina Black/Black/Black/Reebok Royal,Reebok Furylite Camo Trainer CP4997Womens Boots Rocket Dog Venise Black Hush,, 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 Sandals Rocket Dog Belize Orange Valencia,Vans Authentic Trainer CP5062Womens Boots Sam Edelman Amber Black Leather,.

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 Sandals Sam Edelman Galia Natural Naked,Vans Trig Trainer CP5079Womens Sandals Sam Edelman Gene Malibu Blue Vaquero Saddle Leather,, 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 Boots Timberland 6" Premium Pull-On Waterproof Boot Wheat Rugged,Caterpillar Womens Colorado Boot CP5134Womens Boots UGG Cybele Black Leather,.  

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 Boots UGG Neoma Lodge Leather,Moon Boot Womens Monaco Low Boot CP5171Womens Boots UGG Abree Bruno,. 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 Slippers UGG Dreams Grey Sequin Skulls,adidas Originals Womens ZX Flux Zero Tech NPS Trainer CP5258Womens Boots Vaneli Kandee Black Suede/Black Vero Print/Gunmetal Buckles,."

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