Jordans KID 11C-3y-0332 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

Nike Flyknit-0096,MAN Max 2017-0055,Basketball James-0374,. Along with a group of Japanese colleagues, they will spend the day moving heavy wooden pilings and pouring concrete for the foundation of a seven-story condominium block. 

It is demanding work, Nike Free45-0216,Basketball WALL-0010,Basketball Kobe-0250,.

"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 Free44-0696,Nike Flyknit-0217,Kid free28-35-0057,, 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. Basketball Hyperdunk-0080,Basketball Durant-0292,Nike Free45-0382,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Free44-0635,Nike Free44-1086,Air Force LOW-0182,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

7 Star Sale Unisex Nike Air Huarache Run Shoes Black White 634835-101 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, Air Force LOW-0173,Nike Free45-0824,Nike Free44-0563,, 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.

Basketball Kobe-0149,Basketball Hyperdunk-0137,Basketball GaryPayton-0005,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Nike Free44-0472,Jordans 6-0180,Nike Free44-0413,.

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, Air Force LOW-0118,Kid Max 2016-0004,Air Force LOW-0005,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, yeezy shoes-0029,Man Max Sandals-0013,Nike Football-0125,. "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. "Basketball Rose-0047,Nike Flyknit-0177,Basketball LOW-0050,."

Nike Wmns Coming Out Classic Famous Cortez Nylon PREM Perfect Great Pink/Sport Red-Sail 2017 882258-601 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 Free44-0254,Jordans foamposite-0098,Basketball Kids-0003,. 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

Adidas Seeley Mid - Black/Running White/Blue Shops,Jordans 13--200,Adidas Tech Super - Black/ White Vapour/ Running White 2017 New,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Adidas ZX 710 - New Navy/Legend Ink/Running White 100% Quality Guarantee,Basketball Kobe--475,Air Jordan 1 Mid (GG) - Metallic Dark Grey/Metallic Gold-Court Purple Fashion,, 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.

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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, Air Jordan 7 Retro - black Wholesale,Basketball Rose--096,Asics Gel-Lyte III - Tropical Green/ Tropical Green Shop,, 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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Nike Magista Onda FG Men White/Black/Total Orange/Poison Green Soccer Shoes Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

Nike Air Trainer 1 Mid Premium "Draft Day" Quickstrike - Black/Black-Hyper Red-Gorge Green Sale Online,Jordans 5-0139,Nike Dunk Comfort Premium - Black/White Online Store,. technology companies like Google and Uber in the emerging fields of autonomous driving, artificial intelligence, ride-sharing and the internet of things. In these new fields, the flow of ideas -- and people -- is vital.

"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Nike Free Run 2 - Black/ Black- Black- Metallic Silver Cheap Price,Basketball Kobe-0418,Nike Lunar Flyknit Chukka - Squadron Blue/Squadron Blue-Electric Yellow 100% Quality Guarantee,, 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, Nike Rosherun Slip On GPX - White/Black Sale,Man Air Max 2010-0078,Nike Wmns Air Max 1 Ultra Moire - Fireberry/Fireberry-White-Fireberry 100% Genuine,.

Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Vysoke Detske(4-6) Tenisky biele 801-41385 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. Nike Wmns Blazer Mid Suede Vintage - Worn Blue/Sail-Gum Med Brown Factory Price,Basketball kyrie-0034,Nike Wmns Rosherun - White/ Hyper Grape- Hyper Turquoise Shop,.

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. Onitsuka Tiger Mexico 66 - Red/Navy Sale,Man Max 95-0067,Puma Basket Classic - White Authentic,, 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 Squash 2000 - Snow White-White Gum 2017 New,Nike Free44-0962,Reebok Classic Leather Lux "Burn Rubber" - Burn Rubber Fast Shipping,.

Family ties

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

Nike Air Force 1 '07 Wb Panske Basketbalov 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, Reebok Pump Aerobic Lite Vintage - Chalk/Sandtrap/Purple Vibe/Hint Mint Various Sizes,Basketball OTHER-0175,Sperry Top-Sider Ship Yard Chukka - Camel Online,, 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. Vans LPE - Suede Online Sale,Man Max 95-0047,Nike Air Jordan Retro 1 Kids Shoes Blue Black 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, Nike Air Max 2016 Leather Kids Shoes Pink Blue,MAN Max 2016-0081,Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro 89 Mens Shoes White Grey Black Red,. 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," Nike Air Jordan 13 Retro Mens Shoes Black Grey White,Nike Free44-0917,Nike Air Jordan 4 Retro Mens Shoes Black Yellow,."

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