Men's Nike Training Shoe Jordan Flight Flex Trainer 2 768911-305 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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"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, Men's Nike Zoom Without A Doubt White/Black/Cool Grey/Reflect Silver UK#N5-9221,Women's Shoe NikeCourt Zoom Vapor 9.5 Tour 631475-146Men's Nike Flex Experience RN 4 Prem Anthracite/White/White UK#N5-9093,, 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. Men's Nike Zoom Hyperquickness 2015 Tumbled Grey/Deep Pewter/Night Silver/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9262,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max Sequent 719916-009Nike Kids Jr Hypervenom Phelon FG Soccer Pink Pow/Polar/White/Chrome UK#N5-9507,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Women's Nike DF Ballistec Advantage White/Light Aqua/Classic Charcoal/Volt UK#N5-9326,Women's Training Nike Flyknit Zoom Agility Shoe698616-001Nike Zoom Vomero 10 Womens Blue Tint/Racer Blue/Chalk Blue/Black Running Shoes V39966,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Boots Naturalizer Johanna Wide Shaft Black Leather 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, Glorious Gangsta Dakota Roll Top Backpack CP50,Adidas D Rose 5 Boys Toddler Light Scarlet/Solar Blue/Black Basketball Shoes V62177Calvin Klein 1 Pack Linear Cotton Trunk CP404,, 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 Nursery Air Max 90 Leather Trainer CP791,Nike Flex Fury 2 Boys Toddler Racer Blue/White/Wolf Grey/Deep Royal Blue Running Shoes V72009Jack & Jones Mike Dexter JOS054 Coated Jean CP870,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Condemned Nation Bing Zip Hooded Top CP987,Nike Roshe One Girls Toddler Hyper Pink Running Shoes V59059Glorious Gangsta Cicerio Velour Full Zip Hooded Top CP1067,. "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. "Rose London Jesus Fishtail Hooded Top CP1150,Adidas D Rose 6 Boys Preschool Black/Bold Pink/Frozen Green Basketball Shoes V14254Antony Morato Hooded Light Jacket CP1216,."

Womens Shoes Naturalizer Kiara Pearl Grey Nubuck/Ginger Snap 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.Brave Soul Sanjay Light Bomber Jacket CP1282,Women's Shoe Nike Free TR 6 833413-144FILA Pavo Puffer Jacket CP1371,. 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

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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 New Balance Classics 620 - Redwoods Blue/Grey 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, Timberland 3-Eye Classic Helcor Lug Shoe CP3938,Adidas D Rose 6 Boys Grade School Black/Vivid Red/Shock Blue Basketball Shoes V29938adidas Originals Tubular Runner Trainer CP4028,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Shoes Nike Air Max Siren Black/Fuchsia Flash/Sail/Hot Lava 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 Genicco Print Black/Wolf 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 Boots Aerosoles Thermal Brown Fabric,Nike Air Max Sequent Girls Grade School Wolf Grey/Reflect Silver/Hyper Pink Running Shoes V98966Womens Sandals Aerosoles Say-Yes Coral Combo,, 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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Womens Shoes Nike Dual Fusion TR 4 Print Bright Crimson/Volt/Laser Orange/Black 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 ALDO Fabriago Fuchsia,Nike Roshe One Girls Grade School Wolf Grey/Hyper Pink/Cool Grey/White Running Shoes V98675Womens Boots Anne Klein Dvorah 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 Shoes Anne Klein Rylie Cafe Latte Leather,Adidas Crazy 8 Mens Black/Royal/Orange Basketball Shoes V25303Womens Shoes Anne Klein Tapio Light Gold Multi Synthetic,, 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 Badgley Mischka Polite Ivory Satin,Adidas D Lillard 1 Mens Black/Yellow/White Basketball Shoes V38598Womens Sandals C Label Lingo-2 Brown,.

Family ties

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

Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Paraiso Silver 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 Calvin Klein Ettore Cocoon Hair Calf,Adidas D Rose 5 Boost Mens Chalk White/Black/Clear Brown Basketball Shoes V44016Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Prina Black Baby Python,, 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 CARLOS by Carlos Santana Gramercy Wide Shaft Taupe,Adidas Adizero Boston Boost 5 Mens Black/White Running Shoes V31131Womens Shoes CARLOS by Carlos Santana Loral Black/Mustang,.  

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 Clarks Plaza Square Brown Waterproof Leather,Adidas Energy Boost 2 Mens White/Carbon/Light Scarlet Running Shoes V89574Womens Sandals Clarks Paylor Pax Black Synthetic,. 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 Clarks Un.Rosily Tan,Adidas Pure Boost Mens Collegiate Navy/Night Navy Running Shoes V45786Womens Shoes Clarks Lorry Marlin Black,."

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