Men's Shoe Nike Air Huarache Ultra 819685-400 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, Condemned Nation Albion Biker Jacket CP1293,Adidas Energy Boost 2 Womens Solar Blue/Tech Grey Metallic/Solar Metallic Running Shoes V76188Ellesse Puffer Jacket CP1354,.

"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, FILA Mauro Harrington Jacket CP1370,Adidas Pure Boost X Womens White/White/Shock Yellow Running Shoes V95849Native Youth Duffle Coat CP1451,, 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. UCLA Pattern Puffer Jacket CP1544,Adidas Pure Boost X Womens Mineral Blue/Halo Pink Running Shoes V65479Hawksworth Farne Cable Knit Jumper CP1808,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Asylum Glasto Ripped Denim Short CP2083,Adidas Solar Boost Womens Semi Frozen Yellow/Silver Metallic/Frozen Yellow Running Shoes V74302Ellesse Gastone Nylon Run Shorts CP2128,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes PUMA The Suede Classic Lo Winterized Black/Bronze 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, Umbro Rio Jord Short CP2214,Adidas Supernova Boost Glide 6 Womens Neon Pink/Zero Metallic/Black Running Shoes V66152Oiler & Boiler Tuckernuck Shortie Swimmer Short CP2329,, 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.

EA7 Core ID Poly Tracksuit CP3595,Adidas Solar Boost Womens Collegiate Navy/Silver Metallic/Pink Running Shoes V45849Rockport Peakview Boundary Boot CP3752,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Calvin Klein Flip Flop CP3827,Adidas Supernova Sequence 8 Womens Shock Green/Halo Running Shoes V74572Farah Form Hi Shoe CP3912,.

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, adidas Originals Racer Lite Trainer CP3969,Adidas Ultra Boost Womens Black/Grey Running Shoes V19321adidas Originals Gazelle OG Trainer CP4063,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, adidas Originals Superstar Vulcanised ADV Trainer CP4150,Adidas Adissage 2.0 Womens White/Shock Pink/White Slippers V94126Asics Gel-Lyte EVO 'Samurai Pack' Trainer CP4235,. "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. "Converse Breakpoint Trainer CP4302,Adidas Ultra Boost St Womens Grey/Chalk White/Purple Glow Running Shoes V56678Cruyff Technico Trainer CP4407,."

Womens Shoes Rocket Dog Temple White Pretty Petal 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.Fred Perry Stockport Suede Trainer CP4454,Adidas Distancestar Womens Collegian Navy/White/Green Track & Field Shoes V45614New Balance ML373 Trainer CP4560,. 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

Supra Owen Mesh Runner Trainer CP5010,Nike Air Huarache Womens White/Blue Legend/White/Hot Lava Running Shoes V89572Vans 106 Vulcanised Leather Trainer CP5066,, 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.

Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Katarina Moss Green Leather 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 adidas Sonic Allegra White/Silver Metallic/Frozen Yellow,Nike Air Max Excellerate Womens Hyper Orange/Pure Platinum/Cool Grey/Black Running Shoes V58693Womens Shoes adidas Golf Climacool Ballerina II Flash Pink/Running White/Running White,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Shoes Saucony Kilkenny XC5 Spike Orange/Citron 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 Saucony Originals Jazz Low Pro Pink/Purple 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 Calvin Klein Nathali Black/White Nappa,Nike Free Rn Flyknit Womens Hyper Violet/Gamma Blue/Concord/Black Running Shoes V59614Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Whinnie Black,, 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 Boots Timberland 6 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 Boots Clarks Morela Liza Khaki Leather,Nike Free 5.0 2015 Womens Violet Ash/White/Hyper Orange/Black Running Shoes V83961Womens Sandals Clarks Un Ames Bronze 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 Sandals Clarks Zia Graze Black,Nike Juvenate Womens University Red/University Red/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V83004Womens Shoes Clarks Un Casey Black Leather,, 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 Clarks Tri Aerobic White Synthetic,Nike Shox Nz Womens White/Cool Grey/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V90752Womens Boots COACH Holiday Black Soft Shine Calf,.

Family ties

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

Womens Boots UGG Danae Stretch Black Suede 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 Sandals COACH Sherry Nude,Nike Zoom Elite 8 Womens White/Black/Volt Running Shoes V88618Womens Shoes COACH Chrissy Outline Black/Smoke/Black Signature C/Nappa,, 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 Cole Haan Tillary Mule Black,Men's Nike Vapor Speed Low TD Black/White UK#N5-8761Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lexington Pump 85 Black/White/Black Nubuck,.  

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 Cole Haan Neara Skimmer Black Floral Perf,Men's Nike FS Lite Run 2 Dark Grey/White/Voltage Green UK#N5-9542Womens Boots ECCO Adel Tall Zip Boot Mink,. 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 ECCO Cayla Tie Amber/Amber,Men's Nike Air Max Dynasty Deep Royal Blue/Racer Blue/White UK#N5-9537Womens Shoes ECCO Sport Biom Ultra Quest Plus Birch/Birch/Sea Port,."

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