Men's Nike Air Zoom Elite 8 Black/Bright Crimson/Ghost Green/Green Strike UK#N5-9069 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, Womens Sandals Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Photo Plush Gold Metallic,Nike Tribute Track Top CP3582Womens Sandals Aerosoles Cherry Plush Brown,.

"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, Womens Sandals Aerosoles World Traveler Leopard Tan,FILA Settanta Track Top CP3572Womens Shoes Aerosoles Tricycle Black Croco,, 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. Womens Boots ALDO Lillianne Navy Suede,Franklin & Marshall Crew Arch Logo Suit CP3617Womens Boots ALDO Jen Black Leather,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes ALDO Leinan Nude,Timberland 6 Inch Premium Boot CP3753Womens Boots Anne Klein Coldfeet Black Leather/Brown Leather,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Girls STYLE Full Zip Hoodie 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, Womens Sandals Anne Klein Minerva Teal Lagoon Reptile,Timberland Euro Sprint Hiker Boot CP3756Womens Shoes Anne Klein Hooked Black Fabric,, 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, Womens Boots C Label Dainty - 28 Black,Timberland 6 Inch Premium Waterproof Fabric Cuff Boot CP3765Womens Shoes C Label Clower-5 Wine,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Boots Calvin Klein Klara Black Box/Sheep Nappa,Timberland 6 Inch Premium Boot CP3768Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Niobe Platinum Box Metallic Leather,. "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. "Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Valery Black Microsuede,Timberland Britton Hill 6-Inch Warm Lined Leather and Fabric Boot CP3792Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Garda Cameo Rose Patent,."

Nike SB Woven Jogger 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.Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Gailia Navy Kid Skin,Havaianas Brasil Flip Flop CP3845Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Ginnie Cocoon/Soft White Leather/Patent,. 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.

"Womens Boots CARLOS by Carlos Santana Everett Taupe,Havaianas Brasil Flip Flop CP3839Womens Shoes CARLOS by Carlos Santana Posy Pewter,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Boots Clarks Merrian Betsy Black,Havaianas Team Flip Flop CP3842Womens Sandals Clarks Caslynn Reece Nude Leather,," 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

Womens Sandals Clarks Hazelle Alba Pewter Leather,Clear Weather Lakota Shoe CP3898Womens Shoes Clarks Gael Angora Brown Croc,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Shoes Clarks Tempt Appeal Black Patent,Clae Ellington Canvas Shoe CP3882Womens Shoes Clarks Evianna Mix Brown,, 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.

Tooth Boxer Shorts 2 Pack 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 Boots COACH Alexandra Fatigue/Fatigue Suede/Matte Calf,adidas Originals Gazelle OG Trainer CP3946Womens Sandals COACH Cottage Black Soft Vegan Leather,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Nike Academy Knit 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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Hurley One And Only Tri-Blend 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 Boots Naturalizer Maddox Black Smooth/Faux Fur,adidas Originals ZX 8000 Boost Trainer CP4148Womens Sandals Naturalizer Finale Black Leather,, 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 Shoes Naturalizer Ivan Spring Denim Nubuck,adidas Originals ZX 8000 Boost Trainer CP4154Womens Shoes New Balance WW812 Bone,.

Women's adidas Stellasport Hoodie 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 New Balance 521 Black,adidas Originals Stan Smith Mono Trainer CP4171Womens Shoes New Balance W577V3 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 Nike Free 5.0 V4 Neutral Grey/White/Anthracite/White,Asics Gel-Kayano EVO Trainer CP4217Womens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 Deep Royal Blue/Fuchsia Flash/Club Pink/Fuchsia Glow,, 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 Nike Flex Experience Run 4 Wolf Grey/Voltage Green/White/Hyper Pink,Asics Gel-Lyte V 'Mesh City' Trainer CP4244Womens Shoes Nike Golf FI Impact White/Medium Base Grey/Vivid Pink,.

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, Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Gamma Pewter,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Leather Trainer CP4290Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Versance Pink,, 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 Sandals Rocket Dog Vuno Black/Desert Floor,adidas Originals Adi Sun Flip Flop CP3814Womens Shoes Rocket Dog Richelle Black Coast,.  

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 Sam Edelman Tyra Graphite,Criminal Damage Python High Trainer CP4383Womens Sandals Sam Edelman Cairo Black Velour Suede 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 Shoes Saucony Sapphire Purple/Slime/Red,Cruyff Puente Hi Trainer CP4430Womens Shoes Saucony Originals Jazz Low Pro Grey/Purple 1,."

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