Nike Benassi Jdi Slippers Men Black/Red 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 Flyknit Rosherun Roshe Run Black Dark Grey,Jordan Dominate 2.0 Compression 615071-100 White/Black,Nike Free Trainer 3.0 NRG Volt Black Blue,. 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 Internationalist Leather Black Granite Bronzine (631755-003),Jordan Fractal Fade 642469-100 White/French Blue,Nike Jordan Flight Runner 2 Black Laser Orange Infrared 23,.

"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 Kobe 10 X Elite Low Dark Atomic Teal Total Orange,Jordan Stay Cool Compression Sleeveless 642354-010 Black/Cool Grey/Black,Nike LeBron 11 XI Elite SE Maison Collection Blue Hero Metallic Zinc Ice,, 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 LeBron Soldier 9 IX PRM EP Deep Garnet Metallic Gold,KD Swag 698704-010 Black,Nike Lunar Macleay+ TZ Tier Zero Bright Yellow Green,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Rosherun Print Tiger Camo Wolf Grey White Black,LeBron "Floor General" 645143-063 Dark Grey Heather/Volt/Light Green Spark,Nike Sky Force 88 Low Vintage Suede Obsidian (454351-400),. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Women New Balance Wl410 Trainers - Rubber - Navy-pink - 3861987fy 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 Zoom Hyperdunk 2011 Low Jeremy Lin,NFL Atlanta Falcons Limited Jersey (Julio Jones) 479197-012 Black,Adidas Campus Mens BB0085 Clear Brown Chalk White Suede Athletic Shoes Size 10,, 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, adidas Originals N-5923 Men 's Black/White CQ2337,NFL Indianapolis Colts Nike Platinum Jersey (Andrew Luck) 607034-100 White,adidas Men 's Alphabounce Beyond Running Shoes,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, addidas Tubular shadow Size 10 1/2,NFL Pittsburgh Steelers Elite Jersey (Ben Roethlisberger) 468904-010 Black,adidas Mens Terrex Solo Walking Shoes Black Blue Sports Outdoors Breathable,. "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. "Adidas Powerlift 3 Mens Orange Weightlifting Sports Shoes Trainers Pumps,NFL San Francisco 49ers Game Jersey (Vernon Davis) 468966-688 Gym Red,adidas ORIGINALS INIKI RUNNER TRAINERS UNISEX GREY RETRO VINTAGE FITNESS B GRADE,."

Women No Name Sunset Sneaker Waves Espadrilles - Rubber - Grey Fox Rope - 2484443vi 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.adidas Originals ZX Flux Men 's White/Clear Aqua/Black B34516,NFL Super Bowl New England Patriots Game Jersey (Vince Wilfork) 689149-426 College Navy/Wolf Grey/University Red,Nike Court Royale Trainers Mens White/White Sports Shoes Sneakers Footwear,. 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.

Women Puma Suede Classic Ms Wn s Trainers - Rubber - Peacot - 787067le 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, Adidas BY3570 Men tubular shadow Running shoes grey white sneakers,Nike Attack 1.3 549747-600 Challenge Red,Shoes Online - Gel-Mai OG "Asics Blue",, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Shoes Online - Wmns Air Max 95 Wqs "Fiber Glass",Nike Branded AS 811789-010 Black/Red,Adidas Soccer ACE 16+ PURECONTROL Firm Ground Cleats Solar Green N31j11,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

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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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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Men's Cole Haan Warren Apron Ox Black Oxfords (Black) - ZC463N50,Nike Elite Fearless Long-Sleeve 618319-687 Gym Red/Cool Grey/Cool Grey/White,Men's Deer Stags Wherever Chestnut Slippers (Chestnut) - NJ423W3,, 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, Men's Drew Aaron Sneakers (Black/Grey Combo) - YZ330D90R,Nike Fast Logo (NFL Dolphins) 607285-311 Turbo Green/Dark Grey Heather,Men's ECCO Irving Fisherman Sandals (Black) - WJ806R40D,.

Women Superga 2750 Lame W Trainers - Rubber - Gold - 3870012ty 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. Men's Freewaters Kaamper Sandals (Black) - HD926J99T,Nike Football Bo 34 652819-657 University Red/Dark Grey Heather,Men's Havaianas Brasil Flip Flops Amazonia Sandals (Amazonia) -,.

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. UK Outlet Nike Athletic Zip Hoodie crops for Women,Nike Futura Tiger 652818-412 University Blue/Dark Grey Heather,UK Outlet Hurley and Dri-FIT only Cast Racer for Women,, 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 Teva Jordanelle 3 Wp W Sport Shoes - Rubber - Lavender Ash - 6203757sf 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, 2016 Nike Air Max Women's Shoe Fluorescent Green/Blue No.2879,Nike KO Chain Fleece (NFL Bills) 597456-417 Old Royal/White,Nike Air Jordan 13 Women's Shoe Black/Purple/White No.2545,, 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. Boys/Women Nike LeBron 14 Black/White,Nike Legend Block Camo 646095-010 Black/Volt/Volt,Womens Air Jordan 6 Grape/Black-Pink Jordan Retro,.  

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 Jordan Retro XIII "Flint" French Blue/University Blue-Flint Grey,Nike Legend March (Oregon) 00030937X-OD5 Yellow,Women Adidas Originals Superstar Pharrell Supershell W Trainers - Rubber - White Black - 1557676ws,. 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.

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