New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1232 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 Kids Flex Experience 4 Wolf Grey/Metallic Silver/White/Gym Red UK#N5-9461,JORDAN CP3.VIII Black/Dark Grey/Infrared 23/Light Green Spark,Women's Nike Free Viritous Deep Royal Blue/Mulberry/Tide Pool Blue/Wolf Grey UK#N5-9160,, 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 Boxer Short CP399,Men's Basketball Shoe Jordan Super.Fly 5 844677-003,Havaianas Infant Brasil Logo Flip Flop CP520,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. adidas Originals Nursery Racer Lite Trainer CP703,Men's Basketball Shoe LeBron XIII Low 831925-051,Nike Nursery Air Max 90 Trainer CP789,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Pro Hyperwarm Max Flash 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, Alphalab Systemic Velour Full Zip Hooded Top CP957,Men's Boot Nike Lunar Force 1 Duckboot 805899-600,Franklin & Marshall Small Seal Full Zip Hooded Top CP1061,, 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, Carhartt Skill Short CP2099,Men's Nike Cleat Jordan Retro 7 TD 719543-010,Duck & Cover Leyburn Duffle Jacket CP1341,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Ellesse Rimini Nylon Shoulder Track Top CP3564,Men's Nike SB Stefan Janoski Max Unisex Shoe 631303-101,Timberland Splitrock 2 Boot CP3781,. "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 Adizero Adios Boost Trainer CP3957,Men's Nike Shoe Jordan Rising Hi-Low 834233-004,adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4094,."

Nike Bonded 2.0 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 Stan Smith Mono Trainer CP4172,Men's Nike Training Shoe Jordan Flight Flex Trainer 2 768911-305,Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Trainer CP4357,. 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

Supra Hammer Run Trainer CP5016,Men's Shoe Air Jordan XXXI Low (Marquette) 897564-007,Y3 Boost QR Trainer CP5132,, 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.

Nike Victory Swoosh 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 Boots Aerosoles Music Tor Tan,Men's Shoe Nike Air Huarache Ultra 819685-003,Womens Sandals Aerosoles True Plush Black,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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NikeCourt 9 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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Nike KO 3.0 Fleece 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,Womens Boots COACH Genie Black Semi Matte Calf,Men's Soccer Cleat Nike Hypervenom Phantom II Neymar FG 820117-061,Womens Shoes COACH Wanda Khaki/Chestnut 12cm Sig C/Patent,, 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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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Shoes Cole Haan Tali Lace Wedge Roccia Snake Print/Cremini Patent,NIKE AIR MAX 1 ULTRA MOIRE Black/Black/White,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Pinch Campus Dark Silver Metallic Specchio,.

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 Boots ECCO Touch 25 Lace Boot Mahogany,Nike Air Trainer SC High Men's Shoe 811648-146,Womens Shoes ECCO Dayla Ballerina Ice Flower/Troopper,, 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.

Authentic 9tn69 demk9z August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Mens Black 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. Womens Shoes Nike Flex 2015 RUN Black/Hot Lava/White,Women's Running Shoe Nike Free RN 831509-002,Womens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 Print Blue Lagoon/Green Glow/White/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 Boots PATRIZIA Varnsdorf Brown,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max Sequent 719916-603,Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Cogsworth Black,. 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 PUMA Pulse XT v2 Core White/Dazzling Blue,Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Vomero 11 818100-005,Womens Boots Rocket Dog Hallie Black Galaxy,."

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