Jimmy Choo Wedges Women Coupon_962 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 Vomero 10 Womens Blue Tint/Racer Blue/Chalk Blue/Black Running Shoes V39994,New Balance Women Coupon_1359,Men's Nike FS Lite Trainer 3 Black/Racer Blue/Anthracite/White UK#N5-8876,, 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 574 Women Coupon_1439,Women's Nike Flex 2015 RN Flash Noble Purple/Vivid Purple/Hyper Orange/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9509,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Hype Speckle Backpack CP69,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1510,Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star Party High Trainer CP491,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike MM Fly Swing Knit 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 CP634,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1480,adidas Originals Nursery ZX Flux Trainer CP720,, 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, Kings Will Dream Reeves Back Applique Varsity Jacket CP1433,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1772,The North Face Gotham Jacket CP1519,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Asylum Atherton Stretch Skinny Denim Short CP2086,Nike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1793,Nike Kids Jr Hypervenom Pro TF Soccer Wolf Grey/White/Total Orange UK#N5-9458,. "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. "FILA Paolo Half Zip Track Top CP3574,KYRIE 1 Menta/Emerald Green/Fuchsia Flash/White,Ellesse Pisa Small Logo Flip Flop CP3833,."

Women's Snow Camo Jumpsuit 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 Stan Smith Trainer CP3951,Men's Basketball Shoe Kobe XI Elite 822675-105,adidas Originals Copa Skate Woven Trainer CP4078,. 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 Force 1 Low Trainer CP4778,MEN'S NIKE AIR MAX 2015 698902-001,Ralph Lauren Polo Harvey SP Suede Trainer CP4958,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

The North Face Ultra Kilowatt Trainers CP5046,Men's NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT 717075-007,Timberland Womens Earthkeepers Amston 6 Inch Boot CP5174,, 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.

Youth UEFA EURO 2016 Germany Away Replica Player 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 Lite Racer Vivid Mint/Black/White,Men's Nike Shoe Air Max 90 Mid Winter 806808-002,Womens Shoes adidas Running Springblade Drive 2 Bold Pink/Silver Metallic/Black,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Jordan ASG (Toronto 2016) 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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Youth Running 3/4 Tight 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 Ciera Tide Coganc Combination Leather,Men's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 3 Premium 831382-001,Womens Boots COACH Kenna Black/Black Shearling,, 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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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Sandals Cole Haan Margate Wedge II New Bronze,Men's Shoe Nike Magista Onda II TF 844417-708,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Jagger Weave Oxford 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 Cole Haan LunarGrand Wing Tip Stormcloud/Dark Silver,Men's Shoe Nike Tennis Classic Ultra Premium 830699-002,Womens Boots ECCO Touch 55 Tall Buckle Boot Black/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 Babett Clog Slip On Moon Rock/Moon Rock,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom Talaria Mid Flyknit 856957-001,Womens Boots GUESS Ivorie 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. 

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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 New Balance Classics WL574 Black/Purple Synthetic,NIKE AIR MAX 90 ULTRA BREATHE White/Light Retro/Lava Glow/White,Womens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 5 PRT Black/Lava Glow/White,.  

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 Free Cross Compete Wolf Grey/Dark Grey/Opti Yellow/Black,Nike Flyknit Racer Unisex Running Shoe 526628-009,Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Perfection Pewter,. 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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