Men's Training Shoe Nike Free Trainer 5.0 V6 719922-016 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 ao-Lux Full Zip Hooded Top CP947,Nike Air Max 2015 Mens Black/White Running Shoes V31529Condemned Nation Caesar Tech Hooded Top CP982,, 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. Jack & Jones Nathe Full Zip Hooded Top CP1088,Nike Air Max 2016 Mens Pure Platinum/White/Black Running Shoes V70400The North Face Lixus Full Zip Hooded Top CP1157,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Asylum Kennet Jacket CP1223,Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Mens Black/White/Anthracite Running Shoes V32655Carhartt Anchorage Parka Jacket CP1284,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 5 PRT Black/Bright Crimson/Atomic Pink/Black 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, Creative Recreation Cary Hybrid Reflective Jacket CP1321,Nike Air Max 90 Mens Bronze/Baroque Brown/Bamboo/Bronze Running Shoes V43064Native Youth Contrast Leather Sleeve Bomber Jacket CP1454,, 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, Criminal Damage Noir Windbreaker Jacket CP1332,Nike Air Max 95 Mens University Red/Wolf Grey/Black/Pure Platinum/White Running Shoes V83508Umbro Botafoga Swim Short CP2349,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, EA7 Core ID Poly Tracksuit CP3596,Nike Air Max 95 Mens White/Black Running Shoes V86658Timberland 6 Inch Premium Woven Collar Boot CP3785,. "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. "Birkenstock Arizona Sandal CP3822,Nike Air Max Tavas Mens Wolf Grey/White/Cool Grey/White Running Shoes V99823Original Penguin Legit Suede Shoe CP3928,."

Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Jayne Brown 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 ZX 8000 Boost Trainer CP4014,Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Mens Obsidian/Green Glow/Reflective Silver/Print Running Shoes V66979adidas Originals ZX Flux Techfit Trainer CP4090,. 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

New Balance ML373 Trainer CP4557,Nike Cortez Mens Obsidian/Metallic Silver/White Running Shoes V67182Nike Paul Rodriguez CTD Trainer CP4616,, 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 Boots Rocket Dog Cowell Black/Harvey 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, Puma Court Star OG Trainer CP4904,Nike Free 3.0 Flyknit 2015 Mens Hyper Orange/Blue Lagoon/Bright Crimson/Black Running Shoes V58438Ransom Strata Perforated Trainer CP4974,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Vans Classic Slip On Trainer CP5091,Nike Free Rn Mens White/Black Running Shoes V86752Toms Womens Canvas Classic Espadrille CP5200,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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Womens Sandals Rocket Dog Gem Natural Carousel 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 Boots Sam Edelman Madge Black Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

Womens Shoes Anne Klein Enticed Black Fabric,Nike Zoom Winflo 2 Mens Wolf Grey/Black/White/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V97084Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Pettal White Satin,. technology companies like Google and Uber in the emerging fields of autonomous driving, artificial intelligence, ride-sharing and the internet of things. In these new fields, the flow of ideas -- and people -- is vital.

"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Womens Boots C Label Sandra-7 Black,Adidas Adizero Boston Boost 5 Womens Super Solar Red/Black Running Shoes V80066Womens Sandals C Label Tash-11 Rose Gold,, 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 Boots Calvin Klein Greta Shadow Grey Leather/Elastic,Adidas Springblade Razor Womens Solar Blue/Tech Grey Metallic/Black Running Shoes V76184Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Adina Platinum White Leather/Neoprene,.

Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Lynn New Blue 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 Calvin Klein Madeline Cameo Rose Sheep Nappa/Patent,Adidas Springblade Drive Womens Silver/Metallic Silver/Solar Blue Running Shoes V75198Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Gailia Soft Platinum Metallic Grain 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 Calvin Klein Gayle Black Liquid Patent,Adidas Supernova Sequence Boost 7 Womens Clear Sky/White/Lucky Blue Running Shoes V45356Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Tandy 2 Kork,, 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 Kearns Blush Black Leather,Adidas Supernova Sequence 8 Womens Solid Grey/Solid Grey/Sun Glow Running Shoes V78797Womens Sandals Clarks Amelia Joyce White Floral,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Delilah Black Ivory 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 Shoes Clarks Aubria Myth Black Nubuck,Adidas Barricade V Classic Womens White/Silver Metallic/Light Onix Tennis Shoes V94282Womens Shoes Clarks Tarah Rosie Burgundy 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 Shoes COACH Terri Natural Calf,Nike Air Max Sequent Womens Fuchsia Glow/Hyper Orange/Vivid Purple/Black Running Shoes V54286Womens Shoes COACH Drew Saddle/Saddle Lux Suede/Matte 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 Placid Extended Calf Boot Sequoia Leather,Nike Air Max 1 Ultra Womens Black/White/Stealth/Pure Platinum Running Shoes V36596Womens Shoes Cole Haan Mariela Air OT Pump Black Patent,. 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 Pump 65 Black Patent,Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Womens White/Wolf Grey/Metallic Silver/White Running Shoes V96704Womens Shoes Cole Haan Jenni Buckle Ballet II Blazer Blue/Patent,."

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