Men Victoria Victoria W Sport Shoes - Rubber - Black White - 2458792vl 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, Nike College Basketball Performance Fleece FZ (Kentucky) 00030274X-KE1 Game Royal,Nike Air Max 95 Running Shoes Men Dark Grey/Grey/BlackNike College Logo Long-Sleeve (Washington) 00029770X-WH1 Court Purple,, 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. Nike Diamond Quest Tech Fleece Full-Zip (Oregon) 00032575X-OD5 Black,Nike Air Max Sequent Equinox Running Shoes Men Black/WhiteNike Dri-FIT Knit Short-Sleeve 642121-702 Volt/Heather,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Dri-FIT Touch 607728-063 Dark Grey Heather/Dark Grey,Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 Running Shoes Men Black/White/Dark GreyNike Dri-FIT Touch Stripe 588623-807 Atomic Mango/Dark Grey Heather/Bright Citrus,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Shoes Online - 4 Retro BT 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, Nike Elite Coaches (Boise State) 00029526X-ES1 BLUE,Nike Air Max Ltd 3 Premium Running Shoes Men Camo/BlueNike Elite Stripe 545477-016 Black/White/University Red,, 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 Hypercool Dri-FIT 3/4-Sleeve (MLB Pirates) 00030455X-PR1 Black,Nike Air Presto Flyknit Ultra Running Shoes Men White/RedNike Kaleidotech NESS5006-001 Black/White,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike KO Chain Fleece Pullover (NFL Redskins) 597420-677 Team Red/White,Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Flash Running Shoes Men Blue/BlueNike Legend Icon (NFL Seahawks) 605908-419 College Navy/Carbon Heather,. "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. "Nike Legend Just Do It (NFL Titans) 635002-419 College Navy/Carbon Heather,Nike Air Zoom Vomero 10 Running Shoes Men Blue/Black/Green/GreenNike Miler 598589-010 Team Black/Team White,."

Shoes Online - Freedom Runner 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.Nike Plaid 639801-100 White/White/Wolf Grey,Nike Free 4.0 Flyknit Running Shoes Men Black/White/OrangeNike Player (Connecticut) 00030316X-UC1 College Navy,. 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.

Adidas Basketball Light Em Up 2.0 Shoes Clear Green T50i15 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 Force 180 MID Black Red Cool Grey Red Cement (537330-002),Nike Lunarglide 6 Running Shoes Men Light Grey/Blue/GreenNike Air Jordan 12 XII Retro Cool Grey Team Orange,, 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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Adidas Running adizero Accelerator Spikes Collegiate Navy / Running White M77h18 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, Nike LeBron 12 XII EP Witness Laser Orange,Nike Air Jordan Trainer St Training Shoes Men Turquoise/Black/WhiteNike LeBron Ambassador 5 V Black Anthracite,.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Nike LunarFly+ 2 Trail Black Anthracite Neutral Grey,Nike Free Trainer 1.0 Training Shoes Men Dark Grey/BlackNike Roshe One Winter Gym Red Sail,.

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. Nike SB Paul Rodriguez 8 Black Photo Blue Obsidian,2017 Club Universidad Nacional A.C. Stadium Home/Away Goalkeeper 683986-712 Jersey Gold/Dark Obsidian/Dark ObsidianNike Zoom Double Double Mid Fog Club Purple (432161-010),, 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.

Adidas Graphic Tees Hornets Climacool Aeroknit Tee Multi J85s66 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, D69367 Men 's Adidas Superstar Xeno LTONIX-SUPCOL-FTWWhite Authentic 100%,Jordan 6" Stay Cool Compression 642351-410 Midnight Navy/Cool Grey/Midnight NavyAdidas Harden Vol. 1 Pioneer. Sz 10.5. New In Box. White red and black,, 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. Men 's adidas Originals Deerupt Runner Casual Shoes Chalk White/Black CQ2629 WGR,Jordan AJXIII Pixel 632293-010 Black/Infrared 23Adidas F5 Trx FG F32747 blue halfshoes,.  

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, Adidas Originals Stan Smith [BZ0483] Men Casual Shoes White/White-Blue,Jordan Dominate Compression Stay Warm 637901-010 Black/Anthraciteadidas Mens Energy BOOST Running Shoes Trainers Sneakers Black Sports Breathable,. 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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