New Balance 670 Men Coupon_1294 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 SB Kids Eric Koston Wolf Grey/Hot Lava/White/Photo Blue UK#N5-9463,AIR JORDAN XX9 Black/Dark Grey/Gym Red/White,Men's Nike The Overplay VIII Black/Antracite/Silver/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9627,, 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. Nike Youth Air Hooded Top CP418,Men's Basketball Shoe Jordan Super.Fly 5 844677-404,adidas Originals Junior Stan Smith Trainer CP584,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Vans Junior Atwood Leather Trainer CP698,Men's Basketball Shoe LeBron XIV BHM 860634-100,Condemned Nation Rodrick Biker Jeans CP833,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Air Jordan Lite Fleece Sleeveless 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 Essentials Fall Melange Full Zip Hooded Top CP952,Men's Boot Jordan Future 854554-300,Levi's Batwing Overhead Hooded Top CP1097,, 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, Asylum Canyon Rip Short CP2082,Men's Nike Basketball Shoe Kobe X Elite 718763-004,11 Degrees Tropical Fade Swim Short CP2278,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, EA7 Core ID Poly Tracksuit CP3596,Men's Nike Shoe Air Huarache Utility 806807-002,Ellesse Navona Full Logo Flip Flop CP3835,. "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. "Lacoste Concours 16 SRM Shoe CP3922,Men's Nike Shoe Jordan Ultra.Fly 834268-004,adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4097,."

Men's Response Dual 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.Asics GT-Quick GITD Trainer CP4194,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Elite 8 748588-700,Creative Recreation Kaplan Trainer CP4331,. 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.

"Hugo Boss Futesio Trainer CP4487,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Vomero 11 818099-005,Nike Zoom Stefan Janoski Canvas Trainer CP4618,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Nike Air Force 1 '07 Suede Trainer CP4743,Men's Shoe Air Jordan 10 Retro 310805-404,Nike Air Pegasus New Racer Premium Trainer CP4872,," 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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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.

TW VL Hypercool Fade 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 Gold Role Brown Fabric,Men's Shoe Nike Air Max 2016 Print 818135-402,Womens Sandals Aerosoles Enchlave Pink,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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NikeCourt Victory 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 Lacrosse Lightweight Dri-FIT Pullover 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 Tristee Black/Grey Matte Rubber/Wool,Men's Training Shoe Nike Lunar Caldra 803879-013,Womens Sandals COACH Shelly Khaki/Chestnut Signature PVC/Matte Calf,, 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 Shoes COACH Arlene Natural Wild Beast Soft Haircalf,Men's Training Shoe Nike Zoom Train Complete 882119-004,Womens Sandals Cole Haan Lise Wedge Roccia,.

Wholesale Trade Nike Hyperdunk-13 FKP4Qr74 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 Shoes Cole Haan Bethany Pump 65 Black,NIKE AIR MAX PLUS University Red/Black/Tour Yellow,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lena Mid Pump II Maple Sugar,.

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 Alta Tall Boot Black/Black,Nike Code Pro 3/4 D Men's Football Cleat (Wide) 579669-002,Womens Shoes ECCO Auckland Loafer Navajo Brown,, 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 GUESS Jasper Gold,NIKE FREE 4.0 FLYKNIT Total Orange/Atomic Pink/Hyper Crimson/Bla,Womens Shoes GUESS Honora Natural Ombre Patent,.

Family ties

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

Authentic a39c7 3ak39c August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Essential Mens 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. 

Among those whose skills are in great demand is Marliezl Abud, Womens Boots Naturalizer July Black Leather,NIKE LUNAR CLAYTON Black/Sail/Black,Womens Shoes Naturalizer Kelly Cognac Leather,, 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 Flex Fury Hot Lava/Sunset Glow/Bright Citrus/Black,Women's Running Shoe Nike Free RN 831509-400,Womens Shoes Nike Flex Experience Run 4 Black/Copa/White/Vivid Purple,.  

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 Vigorous Dark Brown,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Print 806804-401,Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Thinker Leopard Print,. 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 Roma Emboss Zig Zag Snapdragon,Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Strong 843975-500,Womens Boots Rocket Dog Hewitt Black Sierras,."

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