Incorrupt Price REEBOK CLASSICS Instapump Fury Nylon - Grey Men's Sneakers - 96SO217 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, Paul Smith Accessories Bright Signature Stripe Silk Pocket Square R15m7677,Nike Hyperelite Basketball Crew Socks Mens Basketball Accessories Wolf Grey/Volt X64p2954 Online-ShPaul Smith Pin Dot Socks Navy A99r3876,, 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. Adidas Originals stan smith White Balck A54d9671,Nike USA Victory Gloves Mens Casual Accessories Obsidian/Sport Red/White/Gold Metallic G35t8464 StoAdidas Originals Tubular Runner Primeknit Snake Blue T54u2885,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Barbour International Steve McQueen Double Colour Wax Jacket Olive Green J50d5710,Nike Hyperelite Basketball Crew Socks Mens Basketball Accessories Tumbled Grey/Volt A95o3229 OutletStone Island Garment Dyed Pixel Reflective Jacket Green Q93q1703,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Zoom Kobe VI Basketball shoes for Men Black Red  G98b6050 Official authorization 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, Paul Smith Jeans Wide Stripe Knit Navy/Grey S58l4709,Jordan Jumpman Flight Crew Socks Adult Basketball Accessories Teal/Retro A24h4259 Best PricePolo Ralph Lauren Basic Swim Shorts White H54h5848,, 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, Nike Roshe LD-1000 Trainer Black/White F33i5705,Nike Hyperelite Basketball Crew Socks Mens Basketball Accessories Volt/Dark Grey/Black M49r5356 FacNike Air Max 1 Ultra Essential White/Green/Black Z22i6442,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Force 1 Low Mens White Black H56m1003,Jordan Camo Pom Beanie Adult Basketball Accessories Gym Red/Militia Green/Black/Black I34d4222 For SNike Air Force 1 Low Mens Yellow White V14z8033,. "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 Air Jordan 3 Mens Woollen Blanket Black Gray Red Shoes Y32y3338,Nike LeBron Hyperelite Crew Mens Basketball Accessories James LeBron Mulberry/Black U10s5430 OrderNike Air Jordan 11 Mens Low Classic Engraved Version Black White Purple Shoes O11z2275,."

Cheap Nike Air Max 2017 ID Blue Black White  Men's Running Shoes 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.Nike Air Jordan 1 Mens Air Cushion Navy Blue Yellow Shoes C53e2341,Jordan AJ Stencil Bucket Hat Mens Basketball Accessories Midnight Navy/Turquoise Blue L82p8484 On SNike Air Max Motion Mens Blue Red R32s4653,. 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.

Nike Air Max 90 White Black Gray Blue Shoes 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, Nike Dunk High Top Mens All Beige White Z35c7929,New Era NBA 9Fifty Snap Foiler Snapback Mens Basketball Accessories Chicago Bulls Black/Silver Y62cNike Dunk High Top Mens White Red Cross A49k4105,, 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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Nike Blazer Low Print Black White Leopard Shoes 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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Nike Dunk Pro SB Low Cut Blue Green Beige Shoes 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. Discount Sale Hot Hypervenom Phantom Fg White Black Volt In the UK online,CEP Progressive+ Night Run Socks 2.0 Mens Running Accessories Flash Orange/Black D63j5476 Outlet OnDiscount Sale Men's Nike Zoom Rookie LWP binary Blue Shoes in 27822 In the UK online,, 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.

Nike Dunk High Top Blue Red Green 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. Discount Sale Nike Free RUN 4.0 V3 Winter Mens Shoes Red Black In the UK online,Original Penguin Lawyer Suede Boots Brown - Men's ShoesDiscount Sale NIKE LUNAR FORCE 1 FUSE CTY Silver Green In the UK online,.  

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.

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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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