Men's NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT 717075-001 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, Nike Air Max Thea Womens Obsidian/White Running Shoes V67360,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max Thea Textile 819639-100Nike Flex Fury 2 Womens Fierce Purple/Black/White/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V53366,.

"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 Free Rn Womens White/Pure Platinum/Black Running Shoes V93573,Women's Shoe Nike Air Presto Ultra Flyknit 835738-100Nike Juvenate Womens Stealth/White/Pure Platinum Running Shoes V79315,, 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. Nike Zoom Vomero 10 Womens Blue Tint/Racer Blue/Chalk Blue/Black Running Shoes V40100,Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33 831356-313Men's Nike Tiempo Genio II Leather FG Light Crimson/Total Crimson/Metallic Silver UK#N5-8904,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's Nike Zoom HyperRev 2015 Dove Grey/Classic Charcoal/Hot Lava UK#N5-9413,NIKE ZOOM TERRA KIGER 2 GREENMen's Nike SB Check Canvas Cool Grey/White/Dark Obsidian UK#N5-9380,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes GUESS Eloy Black/White 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 Kids Flex Experience LTR White/White/White UK#N5-9469,Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Strong 843975-400Women's Nike Flex Fury Obsidian/Fuchsia Flash/Mulberry/Fuchsia Glos UK#N5-9216,, 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 Junior Air Force 1 Low Trainer CP645,Women's Shoe Nike Free Focus Flyknit 844817-300adidas Originals Nursery ZX Flux Trainer CP701,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Flossy Nursery Polka Plimsole CP768,Women's Shoe Nike Internationalist 629684-016Jack & Jones Glenn Fox BL344 3D Vintage Jean CP868,. "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. "Creative Recreation Victory Poly Full Zip Hooded Top CP1006,Women's Shoe Nike Free Train Connect 843966-100Hack Apollo Hooded Top CP1073,."

Womens Sandals Naturalizer Vail Moonstone Leather 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.Original Penguin Maple Hooded Top CP1139,Women's Shoe Nike FS Lite Run 3 807145-500Bellfield Nimrod Fishtail Parka CP1235,. 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.

"Condemned Nation Male Varsity Jacket CP1302,Women's Shoe Nike Roshe Two Flyknit 365 861706-001Ellesse Messier Outdoor Tech Jacket CP1368,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Puma Evo Windbreaker Jacket CP1505,Women's Shoe Nike Roshe Two Flyknit 844929-200Duck & Cover Sandbach Quilt Body Knit top CP1794,," Kingston said.

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 Originals Premium Essentials Fleece Short CP2064,Women's Shoe NikeCourt Zoom Vapor 9.5 Tour 631475-100Nike MPT Track & Field Fade Alumni Short CP2184,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Condemned Nation Sulcis Short CP2302,Women's Training Nike Flyknit Zoom Agility Shoe 698616-404EA7 Train Core Track Suit CP3593,, 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 New Balance WX813v3 Grey/Blue 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, Flossy Mens Plimsole CP3794,Nike Flex Experience 4 Boys Toddler Wolf Grey/Dark Grey/White/Volt Running Shoes V97740Hugo Boss Losti Flip Flop CP3852,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Lacoste Sevrin 7 Shoe CP3923,Nike Free 5.0 2015 Boys Toddler Game Royal/Neo Turquoise/Light Retro/Black Running Shoes V54733adidas Originals Tubular Runner Trainer CP4021,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

adidas Originals ZX Flux Geo Trainer CP4132,Nike Shox Deliver Boys Toddler Black/Gym Red Running Shoes V19880Asics Gel-Lyte III Metro Trainer CP4242,," he said. "I want to do more work." He says he wants to run a big farm in Indonesia one day, perhaps growing rice or coffee.

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Womens Shoes New Balance Classics WL574 Aquamarine 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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Womens Shoes Nike Flex Fury Black/Wolf Grey/Cool Grey/White 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 adidas Cloudfoam 8tis Clear Onix/White/Blue Zest,Adidas Rose 4.5 Boys Grade School Light Scarlet/Black Basketball Shoes V61635Womens Shoes adidas Running Madison RNR W Night Grey/Core White/Frost Mint,, 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 Sandals Aerosoles Highlight Chambray Blue,Adidas Element Refine Boys Grade School Collegiate Royal/White/Black Running Shoes V46152Womens Sandals Aerosoles Cherry Plush Blue,.

Womens Shoes Nike Zoom Winflo 2 Dark Grey/Bright Crimson/Wolf Grey/Metallic Cool Grey 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 Shoes Aerosoles Brain Power Black Combo,Nike Air Max 90 Boys Grade School Summit White/Black/Clay Orange Running Shoes V79352Womens Boots ALDO Frido Black Leather,.

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 Boots Anne Klein AKKacey Wide Calf Cognac Leather,Nike Air Max 90 Boys Grade School Deep Royal Blue/White/Light Crimson/Obsidian Running Shoes V52437Womens Shoes Anne Klein Kazia Black FB,, 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 Anne Klein Fion Pewter Leather,Nike Roshe One Boys Grade School Midnight Navy/White Running Shoes V65414Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Kallan Beige Leather,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Nike Tri Fusion Run Wolf Grey/Fierce Purple/Atomic Pink/White 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 C Label Binky-4 Black,Adidas Springblade Ignite Boys Grade School Solar Yellow/Silver Metallic/Collegiate Royal Running ShWomens Shoes C Label Clower-5 Light Grey,, 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 Calvin Klein Zandra Black Patent,Nike Roshe One Flight Weight Girls Grade School Copa/Insignia Blue/Pure Platinum/Vivid Pink RunningWomens Shoes Calvin Klein Ellasandra Dancer Pink Leather,.  

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 Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Sunset Gold,Adidas Crazylight 2.5 Boost Low Mens Purple/Blue Glow Basketball Shoes V70601Womens Boots Clarks Lucette Diva Black 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.

"I want to have a child next year," Womens Sandals Clarks Un Ames Bronze Leather,Adidas D Rose 6 Mens Black Basketball Shoes V11985Womens Sandals Clarks Helio Lilly Gold,."

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