Nike Air Max 2015 Womens Black/White/Black Running Shoes V33335 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

Reebok Ventilator Adapt Trainer CP4990,Majestic Raiders Ambrose Satin Jacket CP1449Vans Authentic Trainer CP5061,. 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, Vans Old Skool Premium Leather Trainer CP5075,Native Youth Ripstop Padded Tech Parka Jacket CP1460Moon Boot Womens WE Quilted Boot CP5166,.

"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 Womens Benassi Swoosh Sandal CP5239,Kings Will Dream Rycken Mottle Sleeve Varsity Jacket CP1432Womens Sandals adidas adissage Black/Samba Blue,, 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. Womens Shoes adidas Stabil Boost Black/Shock Green/White,Native Youth AW15 Gulf Jacket CP1464Womens Shoes adidas Golf Climacool Ballerina II Core Black/Silver Metallic/Clear Aqua,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes adidas Outdoor Response Trail Boost Midnight Grey/Granite/Flash Red,Publish Rosh Printed Bomber Jacket CP1504Womens Boots Aerosoles Barricade Grey Combo,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes Vaneli Skerry Truffle Suede/Tmoro Suede 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, Womens Sandals Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Wip Up Black,Jack & Jones Hutch Hooded Top CP1083Womens Sandals Aerosoles Fire Light Nude,, 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.

Womens Shoes Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Kaleidescope Nude Patent,Nike Camo Coach Jacket CP1480Womens Boots ALDO Phily Taupe,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Womens Boots ALDO Bove Black,Nike Windrunner Jacket CP1482Womens Sandals ALDO Lareani Cognac,.

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, Womens Shoes ALDO Aceidia-U Fuchsia,The North Face La Paz Hooded Jacket CP1525Womens Sandals Anne Klein Evonne White,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Shoes Anne Klein Buttons Firebrick Reptile,The North Face La Paz Hooded Jacket CP1528Womens Shoes Anne Klein Beamer Ivory Multi Fabric,. "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. "Womens Shoes ASICS Patriot 8 Silver Grey/Flash Coral/Black,The North Face 1985 Mountain Fly Jacket CP1522Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Kassidy II Light Gold Metallic Fabric,."

Hurley Phantom Clark Little Clearwater 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.Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Amanda II Platino Glitter Fabric/Metallic,Duck & Cover Olney Zip Knit Top CP1793Womens Sandals C Label Napoli-18 Black,. 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.

"Womens Boots Calvin Klein Zurie Black Cow Silk,Bellfield Albert Knit Jumper CP1779Womens Boots Calvin Klein Collection Amber Ink Haircalf,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Laken Sandstorm/Platinum White/Black Leather,Henri Lloyd Moray Club V Neck Knit CP1813Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Patna Black Kid Skin,," 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

Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Cecily Pewter Saffiano Leather,Hype Flecked Cable Knit Jumper CP1818Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Janel Deep Navy Synthetic/Elastic,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Mezza Taupe,EA7 Core Logo Down Jacket CP1352Womens Boots Clarks Mariella Busby Dark Tan Leather,, 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 PWRWARM Track Jacket 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 Clarks Fianna Holly Brown Leather,adidas Originals Jogger Cargo Short CP2067Womens Sandals Clarks Brinkley Arney Greystone Synthetic,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Womens Sandals Clarks Haley Moon Taupe Nubuck,Brave Soul MSRT Spence Cargo Short CP2090Womens Shoes Clarks Felicia Plum Black Leather,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

Womens Shoes Clarks Sillian Intro Navy,Jack & Jones Houston Fleece Short CP2155Womens Shoes Clarks Vailee Frost Grey,," 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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Men's White Mountaineering Track Jacket 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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Men's Response Dual Shorts 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 ECCO Sky Tie Black Leather,Luke 1977 Molby Swim Short CP2321Womens Shoes ECCO CS14 Casual Sneaker Cocoa Brown/Mahogany/Tomato,, 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 ECCO Sport Biom Train Black/Morillo,Ellesse Orbital Track Top CP3556Womens Shoes GUESS Avocadoo Blue,.

Jordan 23 Tech Extended Printed 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 Hunter Original Short Bright Cerise,FILA Paolo Half Zip Track Top CP3574Womens Boots Naturalizer Blake Wine Suede,.

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 Sandals Naturalizer Bankston Foggy Grey Leather,Converse Core Fleece Suit CP3592Womens Shoes Naturalizer Valerie Ivory,, 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 New Balance WSD400 Black/Bright Cherry,Original Penguin Legal 2 Leather Desert Boot CP3747Womens Shoes New Balance Fresh Foam Zante Silver/Navy,.

Family ties

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

Men's Russia Anthem Jacket 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 Shoes New Balance Classics WH574 Purple Suede/Mesh,Timberland 6 Inch Premium Boot CP3767Womens Shoes Nike Air Max Siren Summit White/Laser Crimson/Sail/Lyon Blue,, 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 Sandals PATRIZIA Perfection Pewter,Birkenstock Arizona Sandal CP3822Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Nerina 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 PUMA evoSPEED 4.4 IT Sulphur Spring/Total Eclipse/Electric Blue Lemonade,The North Face Base Camp Flip Flop CP3869Womens Shoes Reebok Yourflex Trainette 7.0 L MT Flat Grey/Fierce Fuchsia/Semi Solar Yellow/Steel/Whi,. 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 Rocket Dog Elka Brown Hush/Sierras,Mocks Canvas Loafer CP3927Womens Shoes Rocket Dog Studio Black Coast,."

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