Jimmy Choo Pumps Women Coupon_835 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 Roshe One Mid Girls Grade School Black/Pink Pow Running Shoes V23967,Men's Shoe KD 8 EXT 806393-200Adidas Crazy 8 Mens White Basketball Shoes V86042,, 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. Adidas D Rose 5 Boost Mens Silver Met/Black/Light Yellow Basketball Shoes V74901,Men's Nike Dual Fusion Run 3 Premium 724475-405Adidas Element Refine Mens Tech Grey/Black/Solar Blue Running Shoes V80386,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Adidas Solar Boost Mens Black/Scarlet Running Shoes V25778,Men's Shoe LeBron XIII Lifestyle 806396-001Adidas Adissage Mens Silver Metallic/Solar Red Slippers V75127,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Sandals COACH Marla Saddle/Black 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 Messi 15.3 Tf Mens Black/Solar Green/Solar Red Soccer Shoes V28134,Men's Shoe Nike Air Huarache Premium 704830-007Nike Air Max Wright Mens Dark Grey/Deep Royal Blue/White Running Shoes V50291,, 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 Zoom Elite 8 Mens Game Royal/Black/Hyper Orange/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V54522,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max 2016 Print 818135-100Adidas Cosmic Boost Womens Grey/Clear Grey/Light Flash Red Running Shoes V56690,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Max 90 Mens White/White/Silver/Dark Grey Running Shoes V95904,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max 90 SneakerBoot 684714-700Adidas Barricade 2015 Womens Ice Grey/Super Yellow/Night Metallic Tennis Shoes V59916,. "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. "Nike Air Max Excellerate Womens White/White/Black Running Shoes V95091,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max 95 Ultra Jacquard 749771-002Nike Air Max 90 Womens Midnight Navy/Black/Pure Platinum/Soar Running Shoes V64606,."

Womens Shoes COACH Leslie Saddle 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.Nike Flex Experience Run 4 Womens Racer Blue/White/Chalk Blue Running Shoes V71882,men's NIKE AIR MAX 2015 698902-102Nike Internationalist Womens White/Black/Light Bone Running Shoes V88203,. 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.

Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bradshaw Wedge 40 Black Patent 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, Creative Recreation Junior Kaplan Mesh Trainer CP599,Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 749340-800Nike Junior Air Max 2016 Trainer CP678,, 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 Boots ECCO Sculptured 45 W Ankle Zip Black/Black 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.

Rakuten's push for global talent began in 2009, Asics Gel-Kayano EVO Trainer CP4246,Men's Shoe Nike Lupinek Flyknit Low 882685-300Creative Recreation Santos Trainer CP4328,.

Womens Sandals ECCO Rivas 75 Navajo Brown/Navajo Brown 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. Fred Perry Howells Leather Trainer CP4459,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe One Hyper Breathe 833125-300Lacoste Straightset Trainer CP4523,.

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. Nike Free OG 2014 Trainer CP4666,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe Flyknit 677243-012Nike Air Force 1 Trainer CP4809,, 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," Puma Basket Trainer CP4916,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom All Out Low 889123-001The North Face Hedgehog FastPack Lite Trainer CP5048,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Ecco Performance Biom Ultra Quest Black/Dark Shadow/Fanfare Synthetic/Textile/Decoratio 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, Y3 Sprint Trainer CP5131,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom Mercurial Flyknit 844626-003Unisex Boots adidas by Rick Owens Runner Ankle Boot RO Mustard/RO Mustard/RO Nil,, 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 Sandals Aerosoles Stone Plush Coral,Men's Training Shoe Nike Free Trainer 3.0 V4 749361-034Womens Shoes Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Lollipowp Black,.  

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 ALDO Arielle Cognac,Men's Training Shoe Nike Free Trainer 5.0 V6 AMP (TCU) 723939-510Womens Shoes ALDO Lennoxville Camel,. 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 Anne Klein Lyvia Cognac Synthetic,Men's Training Shoe Nike Train Prime Iron DF 832219-007Womens Shoes Anne Klein Barb Wine Patent,."

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