Jimmy Choo Sandals Women Coupon_898 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 Zoom Terra Kiger 3 Womens Cool Grey/Anthracite/Ghost Green/Black Running Shoes V46397,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1281,Men's Nike MD Runner 2 Mid Black/White/Black UK#N5-8978,, 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 Nike SB Trainerendor Game Royal/White/White/Black UK#N5-9105,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1330,Women's Nike Elite Shinsen Wolf Grey/Cool Grey/Sail/Fuchsia Glow UK#N5-9051,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. New Era NY Pitcher Backpack CP78,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1440,Flossy Infant Plimsole CP510,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Ace Melt Away Racerback 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, Nike Junior Air Max 90 Mesh Trainer CP635,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1438,Creative Recreation Nursery Cesario Low Ripstop Trainer CP751,, 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, Jack & Jones Union Vintage Parka CP1415,Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1721,The North Face 1985 Mountain Fly Jacket CP1522,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Carhartt Skill Short CP2100,Nike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1808,Creative Recreation Toluca Swim Short CP2306,. "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. "EA7 Core Visibility Poly Tracksuit CP3597,Converse Thunderbolt Modern Unisex Shoe 155043C-215,Havaianas Brasil Flip Flop CP3846,."

Nike SB Dri-FIT McFetridge 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.adidas Originals ZX Flux Print Trainer CP3963,Men's Basketball Shoe Jordan Super.Fly 5 844677-004,adidas Originals ZX Flux Techfit Trainer CP4090,. 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

Nike Air Trainer Huarache CP4782,Men's Golf Shoe Jordan Trainer ST 833359-110,Ralph Lauren Polo Hanford Heather Ripstop Trainer CP4941,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Vans Old Skool T&L Trainer CP5100,MEN'S NIKE BASKETBALL SHOEKYRIE 1 705277-401,Havaianas Womens Slim Flip Flop CP5228,, 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.

Hurley Phantom Compression Long-Sleeve 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 Shoes adidas Courtset Lead/Frozen Yellow/White,Men's Nike Shoe Free Trainer 5.0 V6 AMP Volt/Black/Volt,Womens Boots Aerosoles Wise N Shine Dark Brown Combo,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Running Women’s NightCat Tights A Vietnamese worker checks autoparts at a Shigeru plant in Gunma Prefecture. (Photo by Ken Kobyashi)

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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Nike Pro Cool Tracer 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 Clarks Sillian Jetay Burgundy,Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Elite 8 748588-103,Womens Boots COACH Sherman Chestnut/Khaki Signature Suede,, 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 COACH Arlene Saddle Pebble Grain Leather,Men's Shoe Nike Dunk Retro QS 850477-100,Womens Boots Cole Haan Johanna Wedge Bootie Sequoia,.

Wholesale Trade Nike Air Max LeBron X ELITE Basketball Shoes in r5F94H0f 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 Cole Haan Barra Sandal Woodbury,Men's Shoe Nike HypervenomX Proximo II TF 747484-700,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Cary Blazer Blue Snake Print,.

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 Cole Haan Pinch Campus Argento Metallic,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe Two 844656-001,Womens Sandals ECCO Touch 45 Wedge 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 ECCO Aimee Nautical Sneaker Steel/Warm Grey/Warm Grey,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom Kobe Icon 818583-600,Womens Sandals GUESS Roxxie Silver,.

Family ties

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

Authentic c3mdt zu24pm Cheap Adidas Superstar Womens Black Shoes 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, Womens Boots Hunter Original Shearling Lined Leather Pull On Boot Black,Men's Shoe NikeLab Gyakusou LunarEpic Low Flyknit 2 880283-001,Womens Sandals Naturalizer Berkeley Gold Fabric,, 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 Nike Primo Court Canvas Print Magnet Grey/Summit White/Black,NIKE AIR MAX 2015 Black/White/Summit White/Reflect Silver,Womens Shoes Nike Juvenate Purple Dusk/White/Mulberry,.  

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 Nike Zoom Fly 2 Chalk Blue/Racer Blue/Black,NIKE DUAL FUSION BALLISTEC ADVANTAGE Clearwater/White/Classic Charcoal/Clearwater,Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Sassari Beige,. 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 Shoes PUMA 76 Runner Fun Peacoat/Peacoat,NIKE FREE SOCFLY Black/Pink Flash/Tour Yellow/White,Womens Shoes Reebok Trailgrip RS 4.0 Night Beacon/Alloy/Collegiate Navy/Luminous Lime,."

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