Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Structure 19 806580-004 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 Mercurial Victory V CR IC Black/Total Crimson/White UK#N5-9594,Nike Roshe One Boys Toddler Deep Royal Blue/Wolf Grey/Midnight Navy Running Shoes V52913Men's Nike Hyperdunk 2015 PRM White/Black/Bright Crimson UK#N5-9133,, 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 Golf Lunar Control 3 White/Pure Platinum/Wolf Grey/Black UK#N5-9420,Nike Free 5.0 2015 Boys Toddler Game Royal/Neo Turquoise/Light Retro/Black Running Shoes V54733Women's Nike Vapor Court White/Chalk Blue/Obsidian UK#N5-9478,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Women's Nike Air Max Siren Print Pure Platinum/White/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9293,Nike Air Max 90 Girls Toddler White/Gamma Blue/Pink Blast/Ghost Green/Black Running Shoes V91469Armani Jeans Repeat Print Wallet CP25,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Boots Naturalizer Trust Dark Brown Smooth 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, New Era NY Yankees Leather Visor Snapback CP275,Nike Roshe One Boys Toddler Wolf Grey/Univ Gold/Electro Orange/Deep Royal Blue Running Shoes V99017Creative Recreation Infant Kaplan Holographic Suede Trainer CP505,, 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, Jack & Jones Erik Pete AKM124 Jean CP885,Nike Air Max 90 Boys Preschool Wolf Grey/Dark Purple Dust/White/Total Crimson Running Shoes V98020Antony Morato Full Zip New Tape Hooded Top CP973,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Cruyff Laszlo Lounge Hooded Top CP1038,Adidas D Rose 6 Boys Preschool White/Grey/Black Basketball Shoes V91750Nike AW77 Shoebox Full Zip Hooded Top CP1125,. "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. "Alessandro Zavetti Talla Jacket CP1201,Nike Flex Fury 2 Boys Preschool Racer Blue/White/Wolf Grey/Deep Royal Blue Running Shoes V72047Brave Soul Nantwich Fishtail Parka CP1265,."

Womens Shoes New Balance WT510v2 Grey/Teal 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.Ellesse Casimiro Jacket CP1365,Adidas Crazy 8 Boys Grade School Clear Onix/Regal Purple/Gold Basketball Shoes V45142Native Youth Football Jacket CP1459,. 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.

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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, adidas Originals Adi Ease Woven Trainer CP4009,Adidas J Wall Boys Grade School Scarlet/White Basketball Shoes V74005adidas Originals Gazelle Indoor Trainer CP4071,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 5 PRT Black/Pink Pow/White/Metallic Silver 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 Air Vapor Ace White/Stealth/Bright Mango Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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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 Aerosoles Snapjack Grey,Adidas Crazy 8 Mens Phantom/Tech Grey/Vivid Mint Basketball Shoes V68115Womens Boots ALDO Frido Dark Brown,.

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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 Fion Black Suede,Adidas D Rose 6 Mens Clear Brown/Clay Brown/Black Basketball Shoes V44098Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Lavender II White Satin,, 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 Elope Iris Blue Satin,Adidas D Rose 773 Iii Mens Aluminum/Black/White Basketball Shoes V10261Womens Sandals C Label Cider-4 Silver/Brown,.

Family ties

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

Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Soren Red 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 Klara Dark Cherry Leather,Adidas Rose 773 Mens White/White/Collegiate Navy Basketball Shoes V95210Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Bertha Ematite/Winter Taupe Metallic Box/Leather,, 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 Galina Doe,Adidas Energy Boost 2 Esm Mens Black/Zero Metallic/Solar Yellow Running Shoes V38680Womens Boots Clarks Sage Aria Black 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 Clarks Alto Madi Beige Leather,Adidas Solar Boost Mens Black/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V22005Womens Sandals Clarks Helio Float 4 Blue Suede,. 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 Shira Nicole Pebble Leather,Adidas Supernova Boost Glide 8 Mens Black/White/Green Running Shoes V34585Womens Shoes Clarks Un Elita Grey Leather,."

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