New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1253 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, Men's Nike Zoom Speed TR2 TB Midnight Navy/Black/White UK#N5-9512,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1641,Nike Kids Jr Hypervenom Phade II FG Soccer Green Strike/Black UK#N5-9190,, 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. Women's Nike Air Pegasus '83 Grey Mist/Black/White UK#N5-9418,Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1744,Hype Speckle Backpack CP64,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. adidas Originals Infant Tubular Trainer CP468,Nike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1818,adidas Originals Junior ZX Flux Trainer CP590,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Hurley Phantom Julian 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, adidas Originals Nursery Hamburg Trainer CP724,Nike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1842,Hype Skinny Jean CP863,, 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.

Antony Morato Two-Tone Hooded Top CP970,Men's Baseball Cleat Nike Huarache 2K Filth 749359-411,Puma Evolution Full Zip Hooded Top CP1144,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Bellfield Radon Puffer Jacket CP1229,Converse Jack Purcell Signature Rubber High Top Unisex Shoe 153582C-467,Ellesse Casimiro Jacket CP1365,.

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, Nicce Short Mac Jacket CP1468,Men's Boot Nike Lunar Force 1 Duckboot 805899-400,Henri Lloyd Hawley Crew Neck Knit CP1816,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Good For Nothing Tennis Short CP2142,Men's Golf Shoe Nike Air Zoom 90 IT 844569-001,Sik Silk Retro Swim Short CP2340,. "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. "Original Penguin Legal 2 Leather Desert Boot CP3747,Men's Nike Air Force 1 Low Black/Black/Gum Light Brown,Clarks Originals Jink Shoe CP3886,."

Men's Mod Long 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.adidas Originals Gazelle '70s Trainer CP3993,Men's Nike Flex Run 2015 709022-100,adidas Originals Superstar Vulcanised ADV Trainer CP4150,. 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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Vans Old Skool Premium Leather Trainer CP5074,Men's Running Shoe Nike LunarEpic Flyknit 818676-400,Birkenstock Womens Gizeh Platform Sandal CP5220,, 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.

Grasshoppers Zürich Shorts 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 adidas Galactic Elite White/Midnight Grey/Iron Metallic,Men's Shoe Air Jordan 1 KO High OG 638471-003,Womens Shoes adidas Running Response Boost 2 Techfit Super Blue/Collegiate Navy/Super Pink,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Nike Pro Fierce Palm Print 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 Pro Cool Amp 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 Shoes Clarks Un Estie Black Interest Suede,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe Flyknit 677243-011,Womens Boots COACH Warren Black/Black/Suede/Shearling,, 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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Nike KO BSBL Pullover 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)

Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Womens Boots Cole Haan Balthasar Bootie Chestnut,Men's Tennis Shoe Nike Lunar Ballistec 1.5 705285-001,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Juliana Low Sling 45 Natural Snake Print,.

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 Cole Haan Pinch Grand Tassel Dark Spruce Suede,Men's Training Shoe Nike Train Quick 844406-002,Womens Boots ECCO Sullivan Tall Strap Boot Black,, 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 Shoes ECCO Siena Moc Picante,NIKE AIR HUARACHE White/Clearwater/Flash Lime/White,Womens Boots GUESS Declan Black Suede,.

Family ties

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

Wholesale UK Adidas Originals City Love 3 Generations High Top Shoes Men Black Green ziMWLCVn 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 New Balance WX88v1 Blue/Red,NIKE FREE VIRITOUS Bright Crimson/Elm/Sail/Blue Legend,Womens Shoes Nike Primo Court Mesh White/White,.  

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 Nike Air Max Thea Brigade Blue/White/Porpoise,NIKE SB LUNAR STEFAN JANOSKI Anthracite/Wolf Grey/Black,Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Apple Bronze,. 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 Sandals PATRIZIA Funkia Black,Women's Running Shoe Nike Flyknit Lunar 3 698182-407,Womens Shoes PUMA Faas 500 v4 Clearwater/Blue Coral,."

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