Nike Free 5.0 2015 Boys Toddler Black/Dark Grey/Cool Grey/White Running Shoes V17187 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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It is demanding work, Nike Flow Short CP2186,Nike Free 5.0 2015 Womens Violet Ash/White/Hyper Orange/Black Running Shoes V8427711 Degrees Tropical Fade Swim Short CP2278,.

"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, adidas Originals Essentials Superstar Track Top CP3513,Nike Juvenate Womens Racer Blue/Hyper Jade/White Running Shoes V70949Pretty Green Forthsea Paisley Track Top CP3588,, 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. Timberland City Shuffler Chukka Boot CP3773,Nike Fs Lite Run 3 Womens Copa/Cool Grey/White/Hyper Orange Running Shoes V48128Havaianas Brasil Flip Flop CP3846,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Clarks Originals Desert Vulc Low Shoe CP3890,Nike Juvenate Womens Deep Royal Blue/White/Emerald Running Shoes V52323adidas Originals ZX Flux NPS Mid Trainer CP3964,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Sandals Sam Edelman Ruth Black/Ivory 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, adidas Originals ZX 700 2.0 Trainer CP4019,Nike Roshe One Womens Black/White Running Shoes V32552adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4112,, 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, Hugo Boss Gym Knit Trainer CP4497,Nike Lunarglide 7 Womens Black/Anthracite/Wolf Grey/Summit White Running Shoes V14168Lacoste Straightset Trainer CP4523,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Huarache Trainer CP4658,Nike Zoom Vomero 10 Womens Blue Tint/Racer Blue/Chalk Blue/Black Running Shoes V39994Nike Juvenate Trainer CP4695,. "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. "Nike Jordan Westbrook 0 Trainer CP4801,Nike Zoom Structure 18 Womens Lyon Blue/Black/Pink Pow/Clearwater Running Shoes V62596Puma Suede Classic Trainer CP4899,."

Womens Shoes Saucony Triumph ISO Black/Pink 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.Ralph Lauren Polo Klinger NE Trainer CP4936,Men's Nike Alpha Strike 3/4 TD White/Black/Black UK#N5-8791Supra Hammer Run Trainer CP5024,. 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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Womens Sandals Aerosoles Base Board Black,Nike Air Zoom Structure 19 Womens Cool Grey/Fuchsia Flash/Copa/Black Running Shoes V46908Womens Sandals Aerosoles Saving Grace Tan Gold,, 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 Boots UGG Patten Black 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 Shoes Aerosoles Brain Power Tan,Nike Flex Experience Run 4 Womens Bright Crimson/Atomic Pink/White/White Running Shoes V41790Womens Boots ALDO Ransome Black Leather,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Womens Boots UGG Analise Lodge Leather 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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Womens Boots UGG Carter Chocolate 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 Clarks Daisy Harp Greystone Synthetic,Nike SB Kids Toki Slip-on Canvas Print Prism Pink/Pink Foil/White/Tide Pool Blue UK#N5-9504Womens Sandals Clarks Image Crush Black Leather,, 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 Clarks Delsie Joy Black Suede,Women's Nike Prime Hype DF II Black/White/Metallic Silver/Reflect Silver UK#N5-9575Womens Shoes Clarks Daelyn Villa Purple Grey Suede,.

Womens Slippers UGG Dreams Black Sequin Skulls 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 Shoes Clarks Cala Dor Navy Leather,Women's Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit Wash Deep Royal/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9535Womens Sandals COACH Vitalia Pink Ruby Patent,.

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 COACH Shelly Dahlia Semi Matte Calf,adidas Originals Tongue Labels Backpack CP15Womens Shoes COACH Kelson Outline Khaki/Midnight Navy Sig/Suede,, 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 Boots Cole Haan Callie Slip On Shearling Waterproof Chestnut Shearling,Nike Hayward Backpack CP85Womens Sandals Cole Haan Jillian Wedge Black,.

Family ties

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

Womens Sandals Vaneli Barrett White Nappa/Silver Hardware 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 Cole Haan Bethany Sling 85 Maple Sugar Patent,Mitchell & Ness Ultimate Snapback CP227Womens Shoes Cole Haan Zerogrand Maryjane Black Neoprene/Mesh,, 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 Shoes ECCO Perth Loafer Green Gables,Converse Infant Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Trainer CP476Womens Shoes ECCO Golf Street EVO One Sport White/Mineral,.  

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 Sandals GUESS Guavva Coral,Hunter Infant Original Chelsea Boot CP523Womens Shoes GUESS Babbitta Blue Leather,. 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 Naturalizer Tipley Black Leather,Vans Infant Old Skool Polka Dot Trainer CP550Womens Sandals Naturalizer Subtle Black Leather/Shiny,."

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