Men's Shoe Nike Zoom Train Incredibly Fast 844803-400 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, Converse Nursery Chuck Taylor All Star Party High Trainer CP747,Adidas Barricade Team 4 Mens Clear Grey/Tech Silver Metallic/Midnight Grey Tennis Shoes V44911Kickers Nursery Kick High Core Boot CP781,.

"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, Jack & Jones Erik Rico JOS 816 Jean CP876,Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 Mens Black/Game Royal/Deep Royal/White Running Shoes V18915Antony Morato Script Overhead Hooded Top CP963,, 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. Ellesse Minoria Full Zip Hooded Top CP1054,Nike Air Max Dynasty Mens Cool Grey/Light Crimson/White/Black Running Shoes V47020Jack & Jones Rider Raised Print Hooded Top CP1090,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Panuu Delaware Hooded Top CP1141,Adidas Powerlift Trainer 2 Mens Grey/Solar Green/Solar Blue Training Shoes V57020Bellfield Sully Borg Puffer Jacket CP1247,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Nike Zoom Fit Dark Grey/Vivd Purple/Hyper Orange 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, Brave Soul Nipton Longline Puffer Jacket CP1271,Nike Air Max Wright Mens Dark Grey/Deep Royal Blue/White Running Shoes V50291Glorious Gangsta Faustini 3 in 1 Jacket CP1388,, 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 AW77 Short CP2173,Nike Air Max 2015 Mens Wolf Grey/Dark Grey/Cool Grey/Black Running Shoes V97453Condemned Nation Radical Swim Short CP2298,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Ellesse Zobi Shell Top CP3546,Nike Air Max 2016 Mens Black/Voltage Green/Medium Olive/Reflective Silver Running Shoes V30481Ellesse Rimini Track Top CP3560,. "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. "adidas Originals Adilette Slide Sandal CP3810,Nike Air Max 90 Mens Gym Red/White/Wolf Grey/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V57499The North Face Base Camp Flip Flop CP3868,."

Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Showpiece Black 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.adidas Originals Racer Lite Trainer CP3984,Nike Air Max 95 Mens Black/Dark Grey/White/Silver Running Shoes V18078adidas Originals ZX Flux Slip On Trainer CP4032,. 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

Hugo Boss Gym Knit Trainer CP4498,Nike Air Zoom Structure 19 Mens Black/Volt/Blue Lagoon/White Running Shoes V30120Nike LeBron XI Low Trainer CP4576,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Nike Roshe Run Trainer CP4625,Nike Air Zoom Structure 19 Flash Mens Black/Reflective Silver/Cool Grey/Pure Platinum Running ShoesNike Zoom Stefan Janoski Canvas Trainer CP4723,, 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.

Womens Shoes Reebok Quick Chase Faux Indigo/Charged Pink/Cool Breeze/White 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, Nike Air Max 90 Mid Winter Trainer CP4853,Nike Cortez Mens Black/White Running Shoes V31552Ralph Lauren Polo Jermain Trainer CP4954,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Vans Authentic Trainer CP5061,Nike Flex Run 2015 Mens Black/Dark Grey/Cool Grey Running Shoes V17155Hunter Womens Original Chelsea Boot CP5159,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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Womens Boots Rocket Dog Cray Tan Horizon Knit/Hush 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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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Seneca II Silver Metallic Suede,Nike Zoom Structure 18 Mens Total Orange/Voltage Green/Ghost Green/Black Running Shoes V81787Womens Sandals C Label Binky-7 White,, 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 Shoes C Label Clower-3 Wine,Adidas Eezay Dots Womens Black/White Flip Flops V31765Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Ulie Black Patent,.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Jeans Lila Light Moss Leather,Adidas Cosmic Boost Womens Grey/Clear Grey/Light Flash Red Running Shoes V56690Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Shelley Black Patent,.

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 Calvin Klein Day Indigo Lux Snake Print Leather,Adidas Solar Boost Womens Bold Pink/Silver Metallic/Black Running Shoes V40734Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Melinda Brown,, 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 Boots Clarks Hayride Elm Black Leather,Adidas Solar Boost Womens Clean Onix/Crystal White/Halo Pink Running Shoes V44091Womens Sandals Clarks Caslynn Shae Coral Nubuck,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Opal Pewter Rasputin Leather 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 Clarks Liya Gander Black,Adidas Supernova Sequence 6 Womens Bahia Pink/White/Black Running Shoes V11654Womens Shoes Clarks Florine Portia Beige 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 Sandals COACH Pelican True Red Shiny Jelly,Women's Shoe Nike Air Rift Sandal SP WhiteWomens Shoes COACH Isabella Black/Black/Soft Milled Leather/Semi Matt Calf,.  

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 Cole Haan Fulton Wedge Boot Chestnut,Nike Air Huarache Womens Rio Teal/Rio Teal/Black Running Shoes V72713Womens Sandals Cole Haan Adrienne Wedge Black,. 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 Cole Haan Bethany Sling 85 Maple Sugar Patent,Nike Air Max 1 Womens Anthracite/Metallic Hematite/Black Running Shoes V11027Womens Shoes Cole Haan Pinch Grand Tassel Cabernet Suede,."

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