Nike Flyknit Lunar 3 Running Shoes Men Black/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, Nike Roshe LD-1000 QS Varsity Maize Soft Orange,Jordan BHM Short-Sleeve Pullover 642458-010 Black,Nike Rosherun Roshe Run Slip On QS City Pack Rio Brazil Game Royal Volt,, 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 Zoom Fire XDR Photo Blue Platinum Orange (643255-400),Jordan Flight Sonic Print 667389-309 Tropical Teal/Black/Black,adidas Terrex CMTK Black - Mens - Size,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. NEW adidas Originals TUBULAR RADIAL White Vintage superstar loop moc BB2398,Jordan Stay Cool Compression Sleeveless 642354-010 Black/Cool Grey/Black,ADIDAS ADIZERO ADIOS M BOOST MEN 'S RUNNING SHOES BLUE RED G95112 Sz 10.5,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

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The demand for construction workers is intensifying before the 2020 Olympics, [CG5072] ADIDAS ORIGINALS PRO MODEL LINEN KHAKI WHITE MEN SNEAKERS Sz 10.5,LeBron "King is King" 611344-383 Turbo Green/Dark Grey Heather,Adidas Pharrell Williams Tennis Hu,, 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, BY3555 Adidas Originals Tubular Rise White Off White Lifestyle Men New Shoes Gym,NFL Detroit Lions Game Jersey (Matthew Stafford) 479386-102 White/Stafford,adidas adiZero Tempo Boost Men 's Black/Solar Red M21561,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Men 's adidas EQT Support ADV Casual Shoes Black/Green BY9589 BLK,NFL Minnesota Vikings Game Jersey (Christian Ponder) 599981-548 Court Purple/White/Gold/Ponder,Adidas Derby Vulc Suede Trainers Mens Navy/White Casual Sneakers Shoes Footwear,. "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. "1711 adidas Duramo 8 Men 's Training Running Shoes BA8078,NFL Pittsburgh Steelers Game Jersey (Heath Miller) 477318-104 White,Adidas Gazelle Unity Pink Black Mens Suede Originals Trainers Sneakers Shoes,."

Women Umo Draceno W Sport Shoes - Rubber - Black Gris - 1311995bx 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 Campus Bold Aqua Footwear White Mens Suede Low-top Sneakers Trainers,NFL San Diego Chargers Game Jersey (Manti Te'o) 468965-436 College Navy/White,1706 adidas Nemeziz 17.3 Firm Ground Soccer Cleats Boots Football Shoes S80599,. 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.

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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 Originals Stan Smith Shoes Core White / Running White / New Navy G45g99,Nike Anchor 642086-342 Team Dark Green/Team White/Team White,Adidas Originals ZX 700 Shoes Collegiate Gold T57b86,, 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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Womens Adidas Basket Profi Hi Top White Navy Red Sneakers 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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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 Air Jordan 7 Women's Shoe White/Blue No.2212,Nike Hyperspeed Fleece Pullover 669981-451 Obsidian/Photo Blue/Obsidian,Nike Free 3.0 V7 Women's Running Shoe Black/Purple No.2339,, 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. Women Bronx Kyte 2 Trainers - Rubber - Black - 6186885yi,Nike N7 Zone 510147-657 University Red/Black/Black,Women Cloud Nana Trainers - Rubber - Blue - 6240776kf,.  

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, Women Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Wash Tri Zip Hi W Trainers - Rubber - Marine - 8462877vj,Nike Platinum Fly Rush 2.0 Half-Zip (NFL Lions) 597628-060 Anthracite/Metallic Silver,Women Dim D Loam Slippers - Rubber - Black - 2705406ec,. 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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