Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Mens Total Orange/Ghost Green/Voltage Green/Black Running Shoes V81193 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

Fred Perry Hallam Chambray Trainer CP4457,Only & Sons Loom Slim Jean CP906Kenzo Sonic Gummy Mesh Trainer CP4500,. 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. 

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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 Free Socfly Trainer CP4699,Jack & Jones Stan Osaka AT003 Jean CP881Nike Kobe X 'USA' Trainer CP4752,, 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 Jordan Flight Trainer CP4796,Sik Silk Drop Crotch Skinny Jean CP911Puma R698 LS PWRWARM Trainer CP4911,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Ralph Lauren Polo Harvey Trainer CP4946,Waven Erling Skinny Jean CP915Supra Estaban Trainer CP5028,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Slippers UGG Scuffette Liberty Pony Brown 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, Vans SK8-Hi Reissue Leather Trainer CP5110,adidas Originals ao-Lux Full Zip Hooded Top CP947Hunter Womens Original Tall Wellington Boot CP5155,, 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.

Gandys Womens Original Flip Flop CP5221,Alphalab Albate Full Zip Hooded Top CP960Womens Shoes adidas Volley Light Solar Red/Black/Core White,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Womens Shoes adidas Cloudfoam Xpression Clear Onix/White/Sun Glow,Creative Recreation Vermont Zip Hooded Top CP1003Womens Shoes adidas Outdoor Kanadia 7 Trail Ash Purple/Black/Bold Pink,.

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 adidas Y-3 by Yohji Yamamoto Rhita White/White/Black,Creative Recreation Victory Poly Full Zip Hooded Top CP1006Womens Sandals Aerosoles Highlight Chambray Blue,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Sandals Aerosoles Magic Plush Dark Tan,Antony Morato Sleeveless Hooded Top CP969Womens Shoes Aerosoles Tricycle Black,. "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 Boots ALDO Cydnee Rust,Creative Recreation Wilmington Lounge Hooded Top CP1012Womens Boots ALDO Luckie Light Brown,."

Womens Shoes Vaneli Laurice Black Suede/Black Patent 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 ALDO Astevia Black Leather,Creative Recreation Coronado Lounge Hooded Top CP1016Womens Boots Anne Klein Callforth Pony Brown Leather,. 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 Shoes Anne Klein Kazia Black FB,Ellesse Gorio Poly Tape Full Zip Hooded Top CP1057Womens Shoes Anne Klein Octavie Yellow Leather,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes Anne Klein Zee Dark Orange Multi Fabric,Hack Apollo Hooded Top CP1073Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Landmark Silver Diamond Drill Fabric,," 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 Boots C Label Sandra-7 Tan,Nike Junior Air Jordan Spike Forty BG Trainer CP668Womens Sandals C Label Cider-1 Blue,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Boots Calvin Klein Talloria Black Tumbled,Majestic Raiders Walker Hooded Top CP1101Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Meville Dark Red Patent,, 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.

Womens Shoes Vaneli Ganesa Castagna Nappa 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 Calvin Klein Ulie Ematite,Nike AW77 Blur Hooded Top CP1116Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Gerica Black Classic Snake,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Camella Cocoon Box Leather,Nike Tech Fleece Windrunner Hooded Top CP1130Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Camella Dancer Pink,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Lacey Brulee,UCLA Shrader Tape Hooded Top CP1173Womens Shoes CARLOS by Carlos Santana Serafina Champagne,," 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 Dame Fighter Tee 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 Tech Fleece Dress 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 Cole Haan Elsie Thong Sandal 40 II Marine,D-Struct Bosco Jacket CP1336Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bradshaw Pump 85 Maple Sugar Patent,, 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 Cole Haan Tali Grand Lace Wedge 40 Zinfandel,Ellesse Verna Fur Trim Puffer Jacket CP1362Womens Shoes Cole Haan Elsie Open Toe Wedge II Black Patent,.

Archive T7 Full Zip Hoodie 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 ECCO Touch 25 Ankle Boot Black,Glorious Gangsta MYA BomberJacket CP1390Womens Shoes ECCO Aimee Slip On Black,.

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 ECCO Golf Classic Golf Hybrid White/Moon Rock Pebble/Universe,Luke 1977 Cyril Jacket CP1435Womens Sandals GUESS Shura White Synthetic,, 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 GUESS Paprikaa Black Dream Suede,Kings Will Dream Rycken Mottle Sleeve Varsity Jacket CP1432Womens Boots Naturalizer Kryton Brown Degrade,.

Family ties

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

Football Bodywear Long Sleeve 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 Sandals Naturalizer Impulse Black Leather/Printed Snake,Nicce Trail jacket CP1469Womens Shoes Naturalizer Gadget Truffle Taupe Printed Iguana Smooth,, Care Port Itabashi.  

Womens Shoes New Balance WW565 Black/Pink,UCLA Morrilton Varsity Jacket CP1546Womens Shoes New Balance WX711 Silver/Green,, 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 Classics 574 - Street Beat Grey/Yellow,Asylum Lone Destroy Ripped Jean CP824Womens Shoes Nike Lunaracer+ 3 Flash Lime/White/Black/Clearwater,.  

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 Flex Trainer 5 Soar/Deep Royal Blue/White/Volt,Glorious Gangsta Karcher Knit CP1802Womens Shoes Nike Free Cross Compete Bright Mango/Bright Crimson/Black/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," Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Glowgaze Black,Pretty Green Mosley Crew Knit CP1852Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Norah Gold,."

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