New Balance 373 Women Coupon_1413 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, Women's Nike Prime Hype DF II Black/White/Metallic Silver/Reflect Silver UK#N5-9575,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1781,New Balance Mellow Backpack CP71,, 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. Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star High Mono Canvas Trainer CP482,JORDAN SUPER.FLY 3 Gym Red/Black/White,Nike Junior Air Max 90 Mesh Trainer CP634,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Converse Nursery Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Trainer CP729,Men's Basketball Shoe Jordan Extra.Fly 854551-610,Jack & Jones Ben Original SC619 Denim Jean CP867,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Men's Street Modern Cut Line Hoodie 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, EA7 Train Visibility Full Zip Hooded Top CP1043,Men's Basketball Shoe Nike HyperLive 819663-002,Nike Air Hooded Top CP1128,, 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, The North Face Horizon Cargo Short CP2205,Men's Nike Air Max Tailwind 7 683632-009,adidas Originals Mezcla Track Top CP3533,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Farah Famous Hi Suede Shoe CP3741,Men's NIKE FREE 4.0 PRINT 729818-002,Clarks Originals Trigenic Flex Shoe CP3892,. "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 8000 Boost Trainer CP4018,Men's Nike Shoe Free 5.0 Photosynthesis 724516-401,adidas Originals ZX Flux Mesh Trainer CP4163,."

Running Shorts 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.Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Leather Mono Trainer CP4272,Men's Nike Shoe LeBron XIII Low 831925-100,Fred Perry Umpire Suede Trainer CP4447,. 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.

Jordan All Season Compression Cement 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 Sandals Aerosoles Zenchilada Coral,Men's Shoe LeBron XIII Low Limited 849783-002,Womens Shoes Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Rock Solid Tribal Fabric,, 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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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Womens Sandals COACH May Gold,Men's Training Shoe Nike Free Trainer 3.0 V4 749361-034,Womens Shoes COACH Kira Beechwood/Cream Soft Shine Calf/Snake,, 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 Sandals Cole Haan Nassau Wedge Black/Gunsmoke/Ivory,Men's Training Shoe Nike Train Prime Iron DF 832219-010,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bethany Open Toe Wedge Maple Sugar Patent,.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Shoes Cole Haan Jenni Ballet II Maple Sugar Leather,NIKE AIR MAX 1 ULTRA MOIRE Midnight Navy/New Slate/Dark Obsidian,Womens Boots ECCO Touch 25 Lace Boot Black,.

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 ECCO Bluma Summer Ballerina Wild Dove/Concrete/Coral,Nike Air Trainer SC High Men's Shoe 811648-146,Womens Sandals GUESS Delilan Leopard Fabric,, 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.

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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 Naturalizer Orianne Herringbone Fabric/Black Shiny,NIKE LUNARTEMPO Black/White/White,Womens Shoes New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Blue Aster/Hot Pink/White,, 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 Nike MD Runner 2 Light Bone/Racer Blue/White/Hyper Turquoise,WOMEN'S NIKE ZOOM STRUCTURE+ 16 536974-303,Womens Boots PATRIZIA Vigorous Black,.  

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 Shoes PATRIZIA Contrast Beige,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Essential 724981-101,Womens Shoes PUMA Ignite XT Clearwater Blue/Coral,. 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 Boots Rocket Dog Snowcrush Sand Suede,Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33 849812-406,Womens Shoes Rocket Dog Tictoc Caramel Moonlight,."

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