Nike Lunar Force 1 Duckboot CP4847 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, Womens Shoes Cole Haan Zerogrand Slip-On Sneaker Silver Mesh/Vapor Grey/Sunray,Womens Shoes C Label Dopey-1 BlackWomens Shoes Cole Haan Jenni Ballet II Black Leather,, 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. Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lena Open Toe Pump 75 II Maple Sugar Patent,Womens Shoes C Label Rome-1 BlackUnisex Shoes Converse by John Varvatos Chuck Taylor All Star Vintage Ox - Coated Canvas Stream,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Boots ECCO Touch 35 Zip Bootie Black,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Raylyn BrassWomens Sandals Ecco Performance Kana Sandal Shadow White,. 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, Womens Shoes ECCO Mobile III Casual Sneaker Marine/Marine,Womens Shoes C Label Liberty-20A Yellow MultiWomens Shoes ECCO Soft VII Slip-On Black/Black,, 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, Womens Boots Naturalizer Ballona Wide Shaft Taupe Wide Shaft Smooth,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Jeans Sienna BlackWomens Boots Naturalizer Transform Jet Black Smooth,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Sandals Naturalizer Praline White Blurred Stripe Linen,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Grecia Winter Taupe/Black Kid Suede/ElasticWomens Shoes Naturalizer Kyndell Sailboat Turquoise Nubuck,. "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 Shoes Naturalizer Kaster Black,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Jeans Nev Cognac/BlackWomens Shoes New Balance W1080v5 Orange/Purple,."

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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 New Balance W870v4 White/Red,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Jeans Melina Black LeatherWomens Shoes New Balance WX20v5 Pink,. 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

Womens Shoes Nike Flex 2015 RUN Pure Platinum/Voltage Green/Hyper Pink/Metallic Hematite,Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Lorren Pewter LeatherWomens Sandals PATRIZIA Iridescent Beige,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Nino Silver,Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Laken Warm Gold Metallic LeatherWomens Shoes PATRIZIA Chevron Black,, 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.

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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, Womens Shoes PUMA Suede Classic Matt & Shine Black/Steel Gray,Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Collection Siri WhiteWomens Shoes PUMA Suede Classic - Solange Collection Omphalodes Triangles,, 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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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 Sandals Vaneli Borea Terra Patent,Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Brady White/Black Striation LeatherWomens Shoes Vaneli Melea Multi Iride Libby Met Print,.

UK rs69c c7u7p9 August Deals Superstar Mens Blue 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)

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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. Unisex Shoes Vans Brigata (Suede) Insignia Blue/Plus,Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Gayle Black Liquid PatentArchive T7 Bermudas,, 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.

Discount 193797 Adidas Crazy 8 Kobe Retro Men White Black Shoes 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. 

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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. Nike Air Pivot V3,Womens Shoes CARLOS by Carlos Santana Westly Kirsch Red2016 England Stadium Away,.  

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, Nike 9" Volley Camotion Wave,Womens Boots Clarks Glick Willa Navy NubuckRunning Speed Tights,. 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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