Men's Shoe Air Jordan 1 KO High OG 638471-003 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, adidas Originals ZX 8000 Boost Trainer CP4018,Men's Shoe Nike Free Trainer 5.0 V6 AMP (Florida State) 723939-706,adidas Originals Tubular Runner Trainer CP4143,, 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. Converse Star Player Wax Tech Ox Trainer CP4281,Men's Shoe Nike Magista Onda II TF 844417-708,Cruyff Vanenburg X-LITE Cobra Trainer CP4426,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Lacoste Straightset Trainer CP4522,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe Two SE 859543-300,Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Breathe Trainer CP4708,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

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The demand for construction workers is intensifying before the 2020 Olympics, Nike Air Max Tavas Trainer CP4827,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 10 844374-410,Puma Trinomic R698 Bright Trainer CP4926,, 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 Sandals Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Photo Plush White,NIKE AIR FORCE 1 HIGH 07 Black/Bright Crimson/White/Black,Womens Shoes Aerosoles Tempting Grey Combo,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Boots ALDO Ransome Black Leather,NIKE AIR ZOOM ELITE 7 Volt/Black/Lyon Blue,Womens Shoes ALDO Aceidia-U Fuchsia,. "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 Anne Klein Falicia Grey Leather,NIKE FLYKNIT AIR MAX TOTAL ORANGE/BLACK-VOLT-FRBRRY,Womens Shoes Anne Klein 7Alwaysnice Black Multi Fabric,."

Sale f8n5i 8uk6gi August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Womens Red 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 Badgley Mischka Amaze Turquoise Satin,NIKE FREE TRAINER 3.0 V3 White/Dark Grey/Bright Crimson,Womens Shoes C Label Rome-1 Red,. 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

Womens Boots Clarks Tempt Althea Black Leather,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 1 Ultra Essentials 704993-006,Womens Sandals Clarks Leisa Bloom Black Leather,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

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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, Womens Sandals COACH Vitalia Chalk Semi Matte Calf,Women's Shoe Nike Free TR 6 Print 833424-002,Womens Shoes COACH Arlene True Red Suede Driver,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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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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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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Authentic 245419 Asics Gelnoosa Tri 9 Men Grey Navy Blue Yellow Shoes 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)

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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 Sam Edelman Delilah Modern Ivory Snake,Nike Air Max Dynasty Mens Cool Grey/Light Crimson/White/Black Running Shoes V47020,Womens Shoes Supra Joplin Nocturne Black/Zebra/White,, via a loyalty point system.

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Family ties

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

Authentic 184957 New Balance Mx20V3 Men Grey Orange Shoes 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. 

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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. Unisex Shoes Vans Old Skool Zip (Leather) Whispering Pink/Blanc de Blanc,Nike Zoom Terra Kiger 3 Mens Total Crimson/University Red/Racer Blue/Black Running Shoes V81001,Nike Golf,.  

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, Hurley Surf Club Icon Full-Zip,Adidas Solar Boost Womens Semi Frozen Yellow/Silver Metallic/Frozen Yellow Running Shoes V74302,Men's Magic Camouflage Trefoil Tee,. 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.

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