Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_944 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, Adidas D Rose 6 Mens Black/Scarlet/Gold Ochre Basketball Shoes V25988,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 806770-003Adidas Cosmic Boost Mens Grey/Clear Grey/Flash Orange Running Shoes V56688,, 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 Energy Boost 3 Mens Shock Yellow/White/Black Running Shoes V74852,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Print 806803-002Adidas Adissage 2.0 Mens Onix/Matte Silver/Vivid Red Slippers V67739,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Adidas Barricade 2016 Mens Iron Metallic/Black/Shock Blue Tennis Shoes V60474,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 806770-044Nike Air Max Excellerate Mens Black/Metallic Silver/Anthracite Running Shoes V22150,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes COACH Olive Cornflower 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 Air Max Tailwind 8 Mens White/Black Running Shoes V86494,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Mercurial R9 818675-003Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Mens Light Silver/Ghost Green/Dark Turquoise/Black Running Shoes V62274,, 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, Adidas Response Boost Womens Clear Sky/White Running Shoes V45342,Men's Shoe Nike Air Presto 848132-401Adidas Anyanda Flex Womens Pink/White Slippers V69291,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Max Dynasty Womens Black/Hyper Violet/Urban Lilac Running Shoes V21027,Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom All Out Flyknit 844134-616Nike Air Max 90 Womens Pure Platinum/Black/Fiberglass Running Shoes V69591,. "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 Thea Womens Vivid Purple/White Running Shoes V85537,Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 (2015 Chicago Marathon) 815792-413Nike Flex Run 2015 Flash Womens Noble Purple/Vivid Purple/Orange/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V6692,."

Womens Boots Cole Haan Hinckley Bootie II Black Nubuck 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 Juvenate Womens Squadron Blue/Squadron Blue/Brigade Blue Running Shoes V79296,Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Odyssey 749338-004Nike Zoom Elite 8 Womens Copa/Black/Fuchsia Glow/Vivid Purple Running Shoes V47812,. 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

Glorious Gangsta Dakota Roll Top Backpack CP50,Men's Shoe Nike Duel Racer 918228-101Ellesse Blocco 2 Pack Boxer Short CP413,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Nike Infant Roshe One Trainer CP538,Men's Shoe Nike Flyknit Chukka SneakerBoot 805092-001Nike Junior Free Run 2 Trainer CP625,, 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 Shoes Cole Haan Zerogrand Maryjane Black Neoprene/Mesh 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, Converse Nursery Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Trainer CP734,Men's Shoe Nike Free Train Force Flyknit 833275-451Asylum Spray On Jean CP820,, 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 ECCO Boullion T-Strap Sandal 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, Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Trainer CP4350,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom All Out Low 878670-301Gourmet The 35 Lite BK Trainer CP4461,.

Womens Shoes ECCO Golf Street EVO One Luxe Black 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. Lacoste Ampthill Leather Trainer CP4525,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom Mercurial Flyknit 852616-002Nike Air Max 90 Winter Sneakerboot CP4688,.

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 Air Max 90 Ultra Breathe Trainer CP4773,Men's Shoe NikeLab ACG Lupinek Flyknit Low SFB 853954-002Puma Disc Blaze Trainer CP4917,, 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," Supra Quattro Trainer CP5041,Men's Training Shoe Nike Metcon 1 704688-710Kickers Womens Kopey High Leather Boot CP5163,.

Family ties

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

Womens Sandals GUESS Titaney Orange 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, Unisex Shoes adidas Adizero Prime Accelerator Black/Solar Yellow/Solar Red,Men's Training Shoe Nike Lunar Caldra 803879-304Womens Shoes adidas Cloudfoam Groove Collegiate Navy/Light Flash Orange/White,, 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 Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Lollipowp Black,Nike Air Force 1 07 LV8 University Black/Metallic Silver/White/BlackWomens Boots ALDO Oceima 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 Shoes ALDO Huwet Black,NIKE AIR HUARACHE Wolf Grey/White/Black/Wolf GreyWomens Boots Anne Klein Kahlan Wide Dark Brown Multi Wide Leather,. 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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