NIKE AIR MAX 1 ULTRA ESSENTIALS Pure Platinum/Black/Game Royal 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, Ice Cream Varsity Hooded Top CP1077,Nike Air Zoom Structure 19 Mens Pure Platinum/White/Cool Grey/Black Running Shoes V70404The North Face Drew Peak Hooded Top CP1159,, 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. Antony Morato Nylon Wool Mix Hooded Jacket CP1213,Nike Cortez Mens Black/Metallic Silver/White Running Shoes V22470Brave Soul Oakville Faux Fur Bomber Jacket CP1268,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Criminal Damage MA1 Longline Jacket CP1331,Nike Cortez Mens Black/White Running Shoes V31552Native Youth Contrast Leather Sleeve Bomber Jacket CP1454,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Boppe Beige 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, Rains Breaker Jacket CP1506,Nike Cortez Mens Obsidian/Obsidian/White Running Shoes V67325Foray Vector Jogger Black CP1688,, 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, Ellesse Rimini Nylon Shoulder Track Top CP3564,Nike Flyknit Racer Mens Dark Grey/Black/Blue Glow/Pink Foil Running Shoes V49502Clae Grant Boot CP3732,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Havaianas Top Mix Flip Flop CP3847,Nike Free 5.0 2015 Mens Obsidian/Green Glow/Black/Reflective Silver/Print Running Shoes V66969adidas Originals Gazelle Indoor Trainer CP3954,. "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 ZX Flux Trainer CP3971,Nike Free Rn Flyknit Mens White/Black Running Shoes V86786Ellesse Rimini Track Top CP3552,."

Womens Shoes PUMA FashIN Diag Gore Italian Plum/Whisper White/Puma Silver 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 Mr Superstar Supershell Trainer CP4134,Nike Lunaracer+ 3 Mens Racer Blue/Voltage Green/Black/White Running Shoes V71598Asics Gel-Kayano EVO Trainer CP4240,. 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

Nike Air Max Tavas Trainer CP4668,Nike Roshe One Mens White/White Running Shoes V95010Nike KD VIII V-8 Trainer CP4755,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Nike Free SB Premium Flash Trainer CP4844,Nike Zoom Fly 2 Mens Black/Cool Blue/White Running Shoes V14911Ralph Lauren Polo Klinger NE Trainer CP4935,, 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 Sandals Rocket Dog Aviara Natural Cedros 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, Supra Stacks Vulc II Trainer CP5043,Nike Shox Nz Mens University Red/Black/Dark Grey Running Shoes V82065Eeight Womens Dana Cut Out Boot CP5151,, 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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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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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 CARLOS by Carlos Santana Ballari Sand Beige,Nike Air Max Excellerate Womens Blue Lagoon/Copa/White Running Shoes V39825Womens Boots Clarks Marlina Ramble Sand 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 Sandals Clarks Leisa Bloom Black Leather,Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Womens Violet Ash/Purple Smoke/Sail/Black Running Shoes V83812Womens Shoes Clarks Santee Charm Cognac Leather,.

Family ties

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

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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 Tarah Rosie Black Leather,Nike Air Max 90 Womens Pure Platinum/Gym Red/Total Crimson Running Shoes V69944Womens Shoes Clarks Un Voltra Navy,, 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 Noella Moss/Black Silk Nappa/Box Calf,Nike Air Max Thea Womens Vivid Purple/White Running Shoes V85537Womens Sandals Cole Haan Air Tamsyn Sandal Black/Black Multi Web,.  

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 Sandals Cole Haan Ayla Wedge II True Red,Adidas Pure Boost Womens White/Black/Clear Grey/City Blur Running Shoes V87471Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bethany Open Toe Sling Maple Sugar,. 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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