Nike Kobe Bryant Men Coupon_1794 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, adidas Originals Tongue Labels Backpack CP15,Men's Football Cleat Nike Vapor Untouchable 698833-411,Creative Recreation Junior Reece Hooded Top CP415,.

"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, Havaianas Infant Brasil Logo Flip Flop CP522,Men's Nike Air Force 1 07 LV8 718152-103,Timberland Junior 6 Inch Boot CP694,, 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 Nursery Air Max 90 Trainer CP790,MEN'S NIKE BASKETBALL SHOEKYRIE 1 705277-401,adidas Originals ao-Lux Full Zip Hooded Top CP948,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Kings Will Dream Mariano Hooded Top CP1093,MEN'S NIKE FREE TRAINER 3.0 V4 749361-066,adidas Originals Reflective Camouflage Poncho Jacket CP1196,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Women's Q1 Graphic Tights 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, Condemned Nation Valmero Puffer Jacket CP1299,Men's Nike Shoe Free 3.0 Flyknit 636232-401,Native Youth Curved Hem Varsity Jacket CP1455,, 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, Toms University Slip On Espadrille CP3807,Men's Running Shoe Nike Free RN Distance 827115-018,Fred Perry Byron Mid Suede Shoe CP3914,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, adidas Originals Energy Boost ESM Trainer CP4050,Men's Shoe Air Jordan 2 Retro Low 832819-101,Ah By Android Homme Propulsion Mid 1.5 Trainer CP4187,. "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. "Converse Breakpoint Trainer CP4303,Men's Shoe Jordan Eclipse Chukka 881453-405,Cruyff Puente Hi Trainer CP4429,."

STYLE Sweater 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.New Balance M574 Trainer CP4564,Men's Nike Dual Fusion Run 3 Premium 724475-405,Nike Nike Free Socfly Trainer CP4674,. 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 Zenchilada Nude,Men's Shoe Nike Dual Fusion Ballistec Advantage 685278-661,Womens Shoes Aerosoles Dimprint Nude 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.

UK Sale Adidas Neo Hemp Rope Casual Shoes Men Gray jZBCSdfc 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 Boots ALDO Ocoinia Cognac,Men's Shoe Nike Free Trainer V7 898053-002,Womens Boots Anne Klein Klye Brown Leather,, 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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"It is impossible for Japanese to create a very competitive technology-based company unless we globalize internally,Womens Boots Cole Haan Putnam Waterproof Boot Chestnut Suede,Nike Flyknit Racer Unisex Running Shoe (Men's Sizing) 526628-402,Womens Sandals Cole Haan Jillian Wedge Optic White,, 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 Cyro Sandal Black/Optic White Snake Print,NIKE KOBE IX EM Kobe Bryant,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lena Open Toe Pump 75 Dark Silver Metallic,.

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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. Womens Sandals GUESS Guavva Coral,NikeCourt Air Zoom Ultrafly Unisex Tennis Shoe 819692-007,Womens Boots Naturalizer Illy Black Leather/Croco,, 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 Sandals Naturalizer Caliah White Leather,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 90 Premium 443817-105,Womens Shoes Naturalizer Sharon Black Shiny,.

Family ties

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

Buy gxcii gne54z August Deals Nike Air Max 95 Womens 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 New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay Silver/Pink,Women's Shoe Nike Air Max Zero 857661-003,Womens Shoes New Balance Classics WL574 Blue/Orange Textile,, 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 Sandals PATRIZIA Nino Champagne,Women's Training Shoe Nike Metcon 1 813101-005,Womens Shoes PUMA Arial Basic Sports White/Fluro Yellow,.  

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 Reebok Sport Ahead Action RS Faux Indigo/White/Cool Breeze,Adidas Messi 15.3 Fg Boys Preschool Semi Solar Slime/Solar Red/Black Soccer Shoes V74424,Womens Boots Rocket Dog Cray Tan Horizon Knit/Hush,. 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 Sam Edelman Kourtney Black Leather,Adidas Element Refine Boys Preschool Neon Pink/Black/White Running Shoes V65966,Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Ivy Black,."

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