New Balance Women Coupon_1348 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

Nike Air Max Sequent Womens Black/Wolf Grey/White/Metallic Hematite Running Shoes V38392,New Balance 751 Women Coupon_1519,Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Womens Black/Cool Grey Running Shoes V15333,. Along with a group of Japanese colleagues, they will spend the day moving heavy wooden pilings and pouring concrete for the foundation of a seven-story condominium block. 

It is demanding work, Nike Flex Run 2015 Womens Chalk Blue/Hyper Orange/Varsity Maize/White Running Shoes V43741,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1631,Nike Roshe One Womens Black/Brigade Blue/Anthracite/Coolt Grey Running Shoes V14352,.

"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 Downshifter 6 Wolf Grey/Black/White/Volt UK#N5-9200,Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1745,Men's Nike Metcon 1 Cargo Khaki/Green Strike/White UK#N5-9557,, 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 Kids Lunarglide 7 Black/White/Volt/Photo Blue UK#N5-9118,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1777,Women's Nike Air Max Dynasty Wolf Grey/Chalk Blue/Cool Grey/White UK#N5-9464,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Crep Rain and Stain Shoe Care CP352,Nike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1826,adidas Originals Junior Superstar Foundation Trainer CP557,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Vaneli Obelia Red Nappa 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, Nike Junior Air Force 1 Low Trainer CP621,JORDAN FLIGHTFLEX Black/Black/Black,Nike Kids Alpha Strike 2 3/4 TD BG Football Sport Royal/Black/White UK#N5-9496,, 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.

Abandon Ship Panel Full Zip Hooded Top CP933,Men's Basketball Shoe Kobe XI Elite 822675-001,Criminal Damage Thorpe Full Zip Hooded Top CP1030,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. UCLA Shrader Tape Hooded Top CP1173,Men's Basketball Shoe Nike Zoom HyperRev 2016 820224-414,Brave Soul Borwell Premium Bomber Jacket CP1277,.

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, Luke 1977 Jules Neoprene Puffer Jacket CP1443,Men's Boot Nike Zoom Kynsi Jacquard Waterproof 806973-001,The North Face La Paz Hooded Jacket CP1529,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Condemned Nation Raleigh Short CP2105,Men's Lacrosse Cleat Nike Lunar Control 4 College 807142-411,Original Penguin Mojo Chino Short CP2192,. "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. "Alessandro Zavetti Ernici Track Top CP3538,Men's Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 31 652925-802,Toms University Slip On Espadrille CP3807,."

Nike Tech 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.Lyle & Scott Connell Twill Shoe CP3926,Men's Lacrosse Clea Nike Vapor Speed 684837-180,adidas Originals Busenitz Trainer CP4041,. 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.

"Asics Gel-Lyte 111 Trainer CP4198,Men's Nike Shoe Flyknit Lunar 3 698181-011,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star MA-1 Zip Trainer CP4295,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Ellesse Pavia Cup Trainer CP4441,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Max 2015 698902-407,Nike Air Max Thea Trainer CP4587,," 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

Nike Air Max 95 OG Trainer CP4716,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Vomero 10 717440-002,Nike Flyknit Trainer Chukka FSB CP4854,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Reebok NPC Vintage Trainer CP4983,Men's Running Shoe Nike LunarGlide 7 Flash 803566-400,Y3 Desert Boost Trainer CP5130,, 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.

Golf Key Stripe Polo 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 adidas by Stella McCartney Diadophis Slide Core Black/Core Black/Pearl Grey,Men's Shoe Air Jordan 5 Retro 136027-133,Womens Shoes adidas Originals Adria Lo W Black/White/Black,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Womens Boots Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Cinch of Luck Taupe Combo,Men's Shoe Jordan Rising High 2 844065-607,Womens Sandals Aerosoles Light N Sweet Brown,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

Womens Shoes Aerosoles Brain Power Black Combo,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Zoom Elite 8 748588-003,Womens Shoes ALDO Luveday Pewter,," he said. "I want to do more work." He says he wants to run a big farm in Indonesia one day, perhaps growing rice or coffee.

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Nike Gym Reversible 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 U.S. Vapor Match Home/Away 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 Sandals Clarks Brinkley Jazz Black,Men's Shoe Nike Roshe One Hyper Breathe 833125-401,Womens Shoes Clarks Claribel Fame Taupe Nubuck,, 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 Boots COACH Lori Fluorescent Green Shiny Rubber,Men's Shoe Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 9 FlyEase 846246-494,Womens Sandals COACH Pelican Chalk Shiny Jelly,.

NikeCourt Premier Maria 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 COACH Olive Metallic Cherry/Metallic Cross Grain Leather,Men's Tennis Shoe Nike Lunar Ballistec 1.5 705285-107,Womens Sandals Cole Haan Arden High Wedge Sandstone,.

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 Bowie Slip On Sneaker Zebra Print Haircalf/Black Suede,Men's Training Shoe Nike Train Quick 844406-107,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Cortland Detail Ballet II Black/Black Patent,, 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 Boots ECCO Adel Tall Boot Black/Black,NIKE AIR FORCE 1 HIGH 07 Black/Dark Grey,Womens Shoes ECCO Babett Maryjane Gravel Firefly,.

Family ties

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

Nike Zoned Sculpt 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 GUESS Tafn Brown Multi Leather,NIKE AIR ZOOM ELITE 7 White/Black/Poison Green,Womens Shoes GUESS Aerra Natural,, Care Port Itabashi.  

Womens Boots Naturalizer Josette Black/Banana Bread Leather,NIKE FLYKNIT LUNAR 3 Black/Midnight Fog/Wolf Grey/White,Womens Shoes Naturalizer Lifetime Grey Heather Fabric,, it entered economic partnership agreements with the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam that would allow up to 900 caregivers a year to come work in the country for up to four or five years each. 

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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 WW411 Black,NIKE INTERNATIONALIST MID River Rock/Total Orange/Summit White/F,Womens Shoes New Balance WX811 Purple/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 Primo Court Mesh White/White,NIKE ROSHE RUN PRINT Total Orange/Black/White,Womens Shoes Nike Air Pegasus '83 Gym Red/Deep Garnet/Cyber/Bright Crimson,. 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 PATRIZIA Chevalier Black,Women's Nike AIR ZOOM FLY 2 707607-503,Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Tahir Black,."

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