Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Essential Men's Blue 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 Mercurial Vapor X AG Mens Soccer Cleats Orchid Purple Deep Pink Green Yellow 3130230,Weave Adidas Performance Terrex Swift Solo - Climbing Shoes - Blue/Core Black/Orange C71h5480,Nike Mercurial Victory X FG World Cup Soccer Cleats Yellow Red 3130354,, 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 Tiempo Natural IV TF Shoes Blue White Black 3130459,Reliable Adidas Performance Choleah Padded - Winter Boots - Sharp Grey B23k9558,Aquila Barbuto Men KW28656,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Croft Depp Men QA32279,Top Fashion Adidas Originals Zx Flux Adv - Trainers - Black E85x6030,Fred Perry Spencer Fg Leather Men BW79983,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

UGG W Mosaic Flare Ii-Black 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, Lacoste Clavel Men BV51300,Shop Adidas Originals Zx Flux - Trainers - Black J16d4373,Puma States Aa Men RF24234,, 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, 2015 New Running Trainers Mens Walking Loafer Mens Mesh Sports Fashion Shose I80,Gorgeous Converse Chuck Taylor All Star - High-Top Trainers - Storm Wind/Parchment/Egret B19y7013,Fashion mens Breathable Sneaker Sports Boat Casual Running Canvas Mens Shoes EE65,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Mens Casual Skateboarding Street Athletic Trainers Lace Up Sneakers Sportsshoes,Cheap Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Fulton Car - Trainers - Thunder/White E45n7323,New Mens Adult Sport Football Trainers Soccer Sport Lace Up Sneaker Shoes,. "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. "SPERRY Mens Gold Cup CVO ASV Sports Casual Shoes Grey Size 10.5 Grey,High Quality Hegos Van - Sandals - Nero/Rame/Canapa T12e4013,Mens Shoes Rebook Royal Hiker Hi Top Trainer Casual Sports Shoes Footwear Size11 Black Wh,."

Nike Air Presto Women's Shoe Black RW6092792 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.DC SHOES MEN'S MIKE MO CAPALDI S TRAINERS WHITE WHT SKATE BMX MX VANS UNILITE [S80f2844],Designs New Balance Ml850 - Trainers - Grey U19p7194,RARE! VANS RETRO SHOES SUPER HIGH TOPS. [X64w9060],. 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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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.

Nike Sneakers Women Breathe White/Fuchsia Glow/Fuchsia Model:745 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, VANS CLASSIC SLIP-ON MEN US 7.5 GRAY SKATE SHOE 3252 [A93v1291],Hot Reebok Classic Ventilator Ii - Trainers - Chalk/White W18r2757,VANS ISO 1.5 (ITALIAN WEAVE) ATLANTIC DEEP MENS TRAINERS SHOES - BLUE [C90z9990],, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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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 Air Max 2017 Women's Grey 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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Nike Womens Air Jordan 18 White Pink Sneakers  3126675 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. Nike Free 5.0+ Dark Armory Blue,Nike Air Jordan 17 Black/Metallic Silver Sneakers 3125990,Nike LeBron 12 XII Low Photo Blue University Gold Gym Blue,.

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 Rosherun Roshe Run Bright Crimson Orange,Nike Air Jordan 4 Retro Black-White/Yellow Orange Sneakers 3126097,Nike Air Pegasus+ 30 Shield Leopard Dark Loden Black Volt (616242-307),, 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.

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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. SALE Swarovski Nike Juvenate Sheen / Light Melon Blinged,Nike Jordan CP3.VI AE Bright Crimson/Electric Green-Black-Violet Pop Sneakers 3126444,Nike Juvenate Casual Breathable Shoes Ghost Green / 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.

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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.

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