Nike Air Force 1 Low Black Blue Sapphire White 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 MercurialX Proximo II IC University Red/Bright Crimson/Black,NIKE Air Jordan 15 XV OG White Blue,Men's Nike Premier II FG Black/Black/White,, 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. Men's Nike Roshe One SneakerBoot Cargo Khaki/Granite/Hyper Jade,NIKE Air Jordan 19 XIX OG Midwest,Men's NIKE SB LUNAR STEFAN JANOSKI Team Red/Summit White/Black,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. MEN'S NIKE SPECIAL FIELD British Khaki/Desert,NIKE AIR JORDAN 23 XX3 LOW 323405-071,Men's Nike Tiempo Mystic V IC Black/White,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Air Force 1 Premium High Womens Shoes in White/Rainbow 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, Men's Nike Vapor Speed Turf White/Metallic Silver/Black,NIKE Air Jordan 6 Six Rings GS White Blue,MEN'S NIKE ZOOM HYPERCROSS TR Black/Dark Grey/Volt,, 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, NIKE TENNIS CLASSIC CS SUEDE - MIDNIGHT NAVY MENS SHOES,Nike Air Jordan T4G (Silver/Pine Green/Green Bean) 313527 031,Cheep Air Jordan 7 Shoes Men VGF0545,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Cheep Hermes Shoes Men VGF0249,Nike Air Max 90 Boots - White/Black,Cheep Lacoste Shoes Men VGF0672,. "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. "Cheep Nike Air Max 90 Shoes Men VGF2969,Nike Shox Monster Shoes Black Silver Yellow,Cheep Nike Lebron James Sneaker Shoes Men VGF3003,."

Womens Nike Air Max 2011 Shoes - Black/Cherry Red 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.Cheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3321,Nike Shox R5 Men Shoes White,Cheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3498,. 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

Men Shoes Nike Free Mercurial Superfly SP HTM 5.0 Dark Obsidian,Men's Air Jordan 3Lab5 Black/Metallic Silver/Black,Nike Air Max 2014 Mesh Blue White,, 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.

Women's Nike Air Force 1 Low 'Blue Tint' 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, Mens Adidas Climacool Modulate Grey Black Yellow Running Shoes,Men's Air Jordan Retro 11 Low Varsity Red,Nike Air Max 90 CMFT PRM Tape Mens Medium Grey Challenge Red White Black Mesh Trainers,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Women's Nike Air Max 97 Ultra '17 Wolf Grey/Black/Reflect Silver/Marina Blue 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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Women's Nike Cortez SE Blur/Light Orewood Brown/Bio Beige Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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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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Women's Nike Free TR 7 Chrome Blush Siltstone Red/Solar Red/Summit White/Siltstone Red 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)

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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. Nike College Logo (Arizona State) 00030418X-AA3 Greyish,Men's Nike Air Force 1 High 07 LV8 WB Brown,Nike Dri-FIT Speed Fly XL (MLB Yankees) 00030459X-YN1 Black,, 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.

Women's Nike Revolution 3 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, Nike Hyper Elite (Florida) 00031575X-FGH White,Men's Nike Air Max 1 Ultra Essential White/Varsity Royal/Reflect Silver/Black,Nike KO Chain Fleece (NFL Steelers) 597478-010 Black/University Gold,, 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. Nike Pro Combat 6" Hypercool Compression 636159-413 Light Blue Lacquer/Blue Force/Light Crimson,Men's NIKE AIR MAX 90 ULTRA 2.0 FLYKNIT College Navy/White/Black/Paramount Blue,Nike Pro Combat Hypercool Woodland Fitted 657442-374 Dark Emerald/Total Orange/Dark Emerald/Total Orange,.  

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, Nike Reckless 645091-088 Dove Grey/Light Blue Lacquer/Black/Black,Men's Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 Wolf Grey/Deep Royal Blue/Dark Grey/Black,Nike Air Force 1 AC Low PRM Nylon Pack Midnight Navy 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," Nike Air Jordan 1 Retro High Rare Air Black Bronze,Men's Nike Air Max Sequent Dark Grey/White/Black/Metallic Hematite,Nike Air Jordan Winterized Spizike Gramite Light Charcoal,."

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