Mr Lacy Junior Flat Lace CP364 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, Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Cairo Blue,Glorious Gangsta Barristan Biker Jean CP847,Womens Boots Clarks Malia Poplar A - Wide Shaft Black Leather,, 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. Womens Sandals Clarks Playful Tunes White Leather,Jack & Jones Ben Original SC619 Denim Jean CP867,Womens Sandals Clarks Hayla Pier Pewter,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes Clarks Festival Gold Black Combi,adidas Originals Nursery Superstar Foundation Trainer CP705,Womens Shoes Clarks Bayham Rose Brown,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Inexpensive 206869 Nike Air Max Men White Blue Shoes 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, Womens Boots COACH Beverly Fatigue Calf Suede,Creative Recreation Baltimore Poly Hooded Top CP1023,Womens Sandals COACH Janine Black/Smoke/Black Sig Embossed PVC/Calf,, 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 Shoes Cole Haan Hollis Sandal Sequoia,4Bidden Recruit 3/4 Puffer Jacket CP1190,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Original Grand Wingtip Beet Red Snake Print/Optic White,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Sandals ECCO Touch 25 Slide Moon Rock,Bellfield Ludlo Tech Jacket CP1242,Womens Shoes ECCO Osan Loafer Shadow White,. "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 ECCO Sport Terracruise Speed Dark Shadow/Dark Shadow/Peppermint,Ellesse Puffer Jacket CP1355,Womens Shoes GUESS Karlea Red Suede,."

Discount 173790 Nike Air Max 90 Men White Blue Shoes 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 Boots Hunter Huntress Gloss Black,Ellesse Messier Outdoor Tech Jacket CP1368,Womens Boots Naturalizer Cantor Bridal Brown Leather,. 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.

"Womens Shoes Naturalizer Draft Saddle Tan Perfed Nubuck/Leather,Only & Sons Skeet Parka CP1483,Womens Shoes Naturalizer Joyce Black Leather,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes New Balance W775V1 Cyclone/Hi-Lite,The North Face 1985 Rage Celebration Jacket CP1537,Womens Shoes New Balance Classics 574 - Glacial Teal,," Kingston said.

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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Womens Shoes Nike Zoom Winflo 2 Black/Fierce Purple/White/Bright Crimson,Antony Morato Fleece Short CP2078,Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Paxi Black,, 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.

Authentic 171509 Nike Air Max Wavy Men Black Blue Shoes 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 PUMA Axel Ballet Tropicalia White/Black/Beetroot Purple,Good For Nothing Tennis Short CP2142,Womens Shoes PUMA Ignite XT Core Fluo Peach/Rose Red/White,, 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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Comfortable 185373 Nike Dunk Low Men Shoes 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,Men's Dame Fighter Tee,adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4109,NikeLab Essentials Tech Fleece Dress,, 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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Buy 196537 Nike Free 3.0 V4 Men Light Gray 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. Men's Germany Shorts,Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Diamonds Trainer CP4340,Nike Color Surge Crossback Sport Bra,, 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.

Cheap 220269 Nike Free Run 3 Men Grey Green Black 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. Buy e5s4p kgdge9 August Deals Yeezy 350 Boost Mens,Nike Air Odyssey Leather Trainer CP4669,Buy zbrig bmcezb August Deals Nike Air Max 1 Mens,.  

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.

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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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