Jimmy Choo heels Women Coupon_776 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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It is demanding work, Adidas Messi 15.1 Fg Boys Grade School Black/Solar Green/Solar Red Soccer Shoes V27771,Men's Shoe Jordan Eclipse 724010-406Nike Roshe One Mid Boys Grade School Dark Grey/Dark Grey/Deep Royal Blue/Anthracite Running Shoes V5,.

"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 Air Max 90 Girls Grade School Copa/Blue Lagoon/White Running Shoes V48127,Men's Shoe Jordan J23 854557-011Adidas Crazy 1 Mens Vapor Blue/Metallic Silver/Black Basketball Shoes V83587,, 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 Cardboard/Light Brown/Night Brown Basketball Shoes V43464,Men's Shoe Jordan Super.Fly 4 PO 819163-407Adidas J Wall Mens Lucky Blue/Silver Met/Scarlet Basketball Shoes V62549,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Adidas Cosmic Boost Mens Solar Blue/Black Running Shoes V75721,Men's Shoe Jordan Super.Fly 4 PO 819163-004Adidas Supernova Sequence 8 Mens Grey/Metallic Silver/Solar Yellow Running Shoes V56905,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Boots COACH Urban Hiker Orange/Orange Shearling 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 Ace 16.2 Fg/Ag Mens Solar Green/Shock Pink/Black Soccer Shoes V76996,Men's Shoe Jordan Reveal 834064-001Adidas Predator Absolado Instinct In Mens Solar Red/White/Night Flash Soccer Shoes V77731,, 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 Roshe One Mens White/White Running Shoes V95010,Men's Shoe Nike Air Force 1 Ultra Flyknit 817420-700Adidas Eezay Dots Womens Halo Pink/Halo/Mineral Red Flip Flops V57555,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Max 95 Mens University Red/Wolf Grey/Black/Pure Platinum/White Running Shoes V83469,Men's Shoe Nike Air Huarache Run Premium 704830-006Adidas Adilette Supercloud Plus Womens Black/Mineral Blue/White Slippers V22672,. "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. "Adidas Volley Team 3 Womens Black/Silver Metallic/Dark Grey Volleyball Shoes V26695,Men's Shoe Nike Air Huarache Ultra 819685-003Nike Air Max 2016 Womens Copa/Blue Lagoon/Vivid Purple/Black Running Shoes V48120,."

Womens Shoes COACH Rodney Nude/Nude Matte Calf/Matte Calf 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 Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Womens Vivid Purple/Fuchsia Glow/Hyper Orange/Black Running Shoes V85251,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max 2016 Print 818135-400Nike Free Rn Flyknit Womens Laser Orange/Gamma Blue/Cool Grey/Black Running Shoes V60746,. 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 Kids Flex Experience LTR White/White/White UK#N5-9469,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 806770-403Women's Nike Tanjun Hyper Turquoise/White/Racer Blue UK#N5-9524,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

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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 Laurel Woven Moc Sequoia 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, Nike Infant Roshe Run Trainer CP531,Men's Shoe Nike Air Presto Mid Utility 859524-003Nike Junior Stefan Janoski Suede Trainer CP638,, 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 Shoes Cole Haan Fair Haven Pump Marlin Blue Suede 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,adidas Originals ZX Flux Trainer CP3960,Men's Shoe Nike Free Trainer V7 898053-400adidas Originals Gazelle OG Trainer CP4063,, 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. Creative Recreation Kaplan Trainer CP4371,Men's Shoe Nike Metcon 2 Amplify 819902-004Hugo Boss Victual Trainer CP4494,.

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 Odyssey Trainer CP4637,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe One Flyknit Premium 746825-402Nike Air Force 1 High Trainer CP4742,, 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," Nike Air Huarache Low Trainer CP4836,Men's Shoe Nike Train Speed 4 Amp (Duke) 844102-410Reebok Classic Leather Casual Trainer CP4981,.

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, Vans Old Skool Trainer CP5104,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom HyperRev 2016 BeTrue 853720-618Flossy Womens Plimsole CP5197,, 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 Aerosoles Enamel Grey Combo,Men's Shoe NikeCourt Air Zoom Ultra React 859719-001Womens Sandals Aerosoles Wip Band Pink Floral,.  

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 Elealla Black,Men's Shoe NikeLab Air Max 1 Pinnacle 859554-400Womens Boots ALDO Saydda Black Nubuck,. 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 ALDO Haollan Black/White,Men's Training Shoe Nike Lunar Caldra 803879-616Womens Shoes Anne Klein AKPrisha Black Twinkle,."

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