Men's Nike Hypervenom Phelon II IC Wolf Grey/Total Orange/Black/Black UK#N5-9313 Farruq Fahlevi, left, and Muhamad Irvan Gustian, both from Indonesia, work on a farm harvesting cabbages in Ibaraki Prefecture. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)
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Famous for its resistance to immigration, Japan opens its doors

Number of foreign workers doubles in five years as nation faces labor crisis

Womens Shoes adidas Stabil Boost Black/Shock Green/White,Condemned Nation Primo Swim Short CP2299Womens Shoes adidas Originals Adria Lo W Joy Purple/White/White,. 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, Womens Shoes adidas Running Response Boost Techfit Dark Grey/Silver Metallic/Flash Orange,Ellesse Icaruc Piped Swim Short CP2309Womens Boots Aerosoles Ride Out Tan,.

"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 Boots Aerosoles Calendar Brown,Condemned Nation Sulcis Short CP2302Womens Sandals Aerosoles Cherry Plush Light Tan,, 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 Sandals Aerosoles Light N Sweet Red,Native Youth Ditsy Floral Swim Short CP2324Womens Shoes Aerosoles Sleigh Ride Brown Croco,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Rock Solid Pink Stripe,Sik Silk Retro Swim Short CP2337Womens Boots ALDO Keira Bordo,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Ace 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 Shoes ALDO Choewia Rose Gold,Oiler & Boiler Tuckernuck Shortie Swimmer Short CP2329Womens Shoes ALDO Haollan Black/White,, 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 Shoes Badgley Mischka Mega Platino Metallic Leather,adidas Originals Supercolor Track Top CP3516Womens Boots C Label Binky-4 Black,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Sandals C Label Rollin-14 Fuchsia,Ellesse Orbital Track Top CP3557Womens Shoes C Label Binky-11 Pink,. "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 Boots Calvin Klein Talloria Black,Ellesse Rimini Nylon Shoulder Track Top CP3564Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Doma Black Toscana Leather,."

Men's Regista Tech Softshell Jacket 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 Sandals Calvin Klein Jeans Adeli Tan Leather,Pretty Green Forthsea Paisley Track Top CP3588Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Madigan Black 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 Shoes Calvin Klein Wisteria Black/White Stretch Knit/Leather,Converse Core Fleece Suit CP3592Womens Boots CARLOS by Carlos Santana Gramercy Wide Shaft Taupe,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Finesse Corfu Blue,FILA Paolo Half Zip Track Top CP3575Womens Boots Clarks Delsie Stella Black Suede,," 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 Boots Clarks Kearns Sirena Black,Timberland Earthkeepers 2.0 Chukka Boot CP3758Womens Sandals Clarks Palmdale Dasha Shingle Grey Suede,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Sandals Clarks Brinkley Jazz Pink Camo,Timberland Earthkeepers 6 Inch Cupsole Boot CP3761Womens Shoes Clarks Propose Band Red Leather,, 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.

Nike 5 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 Clarks Everlay Daphne Brown Leather,Flossy Palmira Espadrille CP3798Womens Shoes Clarks Leara Blend Black,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Shoes COACH Lacey Natural Wild Beast,Birkenstock Arizona Sandal CP3819Womens Shoes COACH Kira Black Soft Shine Calf,," 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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Nike SB FTM Stretch 5-Pocket 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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Nike Pro Fierce Palm Print 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 GUESS Heya Black Suede,adidas Originals Superstar SuperColor Trainer CP4010Womens Boots Naturalizer Kryton Brown Fabric,, 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 Naturalizer Impulse Black Leather/Printed Snake,adidas Originals ZX 8000 Boost Trainer CP4018Womens Shoes Naturalizer Leana Dark Venom,.

Nike Water Polo Solid High Neck 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 Naturalizer Joana Paprika Red Suede,adidas Originals Gazelle OG Trainer CP4063Womens Shoes New Balance WX608v4 White/Mint,.

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 New Balance W1260v5 Grey/Yellow,adidas Originals ZX Flux Techfit Trainer CP4089Womens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 4 White/Metallic Silver/Metallic Silver,, 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 Magista Ola FG Volt/Blue Lagoon/Black/White,adidas Originals Stan Smith Trainer CP4157Womens Shoes Nike MD Runner 2 Light Bone/Racer Blue/White/Hyper Turquoise,.

Family ties

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

Women's adidas STELLASPORT Sport Tights 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 PATRIZIA Quill Camel,adidas Originals ZX Flux Mesh Trainer CP4163Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Perfection Silver,, 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 Reebok Reebok Royal Lumina White/White/White/Reebok Royal 1,Bjorn Borg X100 Low Mesh Trainer CP4258Womens Boots Rocket Dog Temecula Tan Galaxy,.  

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 Rocket Dog Studio Black Coast,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Brea Leather Trainer CP4297Womens Boots Sam Edelman Kourtney Space Blue,. 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 Sam Edelman Becka Black/Cool Sand,Cortica Epic Runner Trainer CP4314Womens Shoes Saucony Kilkenny XC5 Spike W Purple/Vizipro Orange,."

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