Ropes Classic Flat Laces CP371 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

Womens Shoes Aerosoles Dimprint Black Patent,adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4094Womens Boots ALDO Lyttle Khaki,. Along with a group of Japanese colleagues, they will spend the day moving heavy wooden pilings and pouring concrete for the foundation of a seven-story condominium block. 

It is demanding work, Womens Sandals ALDO Napoleone Black Leather,adidas Originals Gazelle OG Trainer CP4066Womens Shoes ALDO Astevia Gold,.

"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 Boots Anne Klein Fedya Black Suede,adidas Originals Busenitz Trainer CP4075Womens Shoes Anne Klein Petrica Light Pink 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 Anne Klein Expert Black Reptile 1,adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4108Womens Shoes Anne Klein Ardmore Tweed,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes Anne Klein Dane Medium Taupe/Medium Taupe Fabric,adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4110Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Lianna Black Satin Fabric/Mesh,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Men's Response Dual Shorts 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, Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Meribeth Ivory Satin,adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4112Womens Sandals C Label Darla-9 Pewter,, 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.

Womens Shoes C Label Tavi-1 Blue,adidas Originals Superstar Vulcanised ADV Trainer CP4125Womens Boots Calvin Klein Gigi Black Cow Kansas/Neoprene,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Meville Dark Red Patent,adidas Originals Superstar Mono Trainer CP4138Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Bertha Ematite/Winter Taupe Metallic Box/Leather,.

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 Shoes Calvin Klein Shanti Black/Silver Nappa,adidas Originals Superstar RT Trainer CP4141Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Shelley Black Patent,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Karel Indigo/Black Haircalf/Leather,adidas Originals Mr Superstar Supershell Trainer CP4134Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Collection Gavin Tmoro Babycalf,. "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 Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Glisten Turquoise,adidas Originals ZX Flux Racer Asym Trainer CP4186Womens Shoes CARLOS by Carlos Santana Soul Black Leather,."

Men's Japan Anthem Jacket 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.Womens Boots Clarks Fianna Holly Black Leather,Armani Jeans Tonal Suede Leather Trainer CP4190Womens Sandals Clarks Playful Tunes White Leather,. 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.

"Womens Sandals Clarks InMotion Sail Sage,adidas Originals Stan Smith Gold Trainer CP4174Womens Shoes Clarks Santee Charm Cognac Leather,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes Clarks Alitay Giana Black Leather,Asics Gel-Lyte III Womens Shoes Clarks Bayham Rose Black,," Kingston said.

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 Boots COACH Alexandra Fatigue/Fatigue Suede/Matte Calf,Asics Gel-Lyte EVO 'Samurai Pack' Trainer CP4231Womens Sandals COACH Bernice Chalk Soft Vegan Leather,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Shoes COACH Wanda Khaki/Chestnut 12cm Sig C/Patent,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Trainer CP4265Womens Shoes COACH Olive Neutral/Black Pebble Grain/Matte Calf,, 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.

NikeCourt Baseline 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 COACH Smith Stone Suede,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Shroud Trainer CP4299Womens Boots Cole Haan Tali Grand Tall Boot 40 Black,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

Womens Sandals Cole Haan Taylor Wedge Sandstone,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Hiker Trainer CP4284Womens Shoes Cole Haan Tillary Mule Black,. He speaks basic Japanese, which he picked up watching anime series such as "One Piece" and "Detective Conan."

Womens Shoes Cole Haan Zerogrand Oxford No Stitch Black,Creative Recreation Kaplan Trainer CP4329Womens Shoes Cole Haan Cary Venetian Dark Silver Snake Print,," he said. "I want to do more work." He says he wants to run a big farm in Indonesia one day, perhaps growing rice or coffee.

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Women's Ultimate Fit Three-Quarter Tights 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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Various Sizes Adidas Originalsficial Mid 80 Beckham Shoes Men Brown White 3MXmakYT 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 Shoes New Balance WC1005 White,Lacoste Marcel Trainer CP4509Womens Shoes New Balance WC996v2 Light Blue/Blue,, 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 New Balance Classics 315 - Cush+ Black,Lyle & Scott Cally Mesh Slip On Trainer CP4546Womens Shoes Nike Classic Cortez BR Fuchsia Glow/Lava Glow/White,.

Authentic 2dgeg z899fg August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Womens Red 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 Nike Air Vapor Ace White/Light Bone/Pure Platinum/Pure Platinum,Lacoste Straightset Trainer CP4523Womens Shoes Nike Air Max Sequent Wolf Grey/Vivid Purple/White/Hyper Orange,.

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 Boots PATRIZIA Laila Dark Brown,Nike Zoom Team Edition Trainer CP4598Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Nanor Pink,, 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 Shoes PATRIZIA Tumeric Gold,Nike Paul Rodriguez CTD Trainer CP4616Womens Shoes PUMA Pulse XT Sport White/Sulphur Spring,.

Family ties

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

Authentic b6d3v u2uveu August Deals ZX 850 Mens 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 Reebok Speed Rise Black/White/Reebok Royal/Silver,Nike Stefan Janoski Suede Trainer CP4652Womens Boots Rocket Dog Suri Grey Cozy Cover,, Care Port Itabashi.  

Womens Shoes Rocket Dog Studio Black Coast,Nike Air Force 1 Elite Trainer CP4671Womens Boots Sam Edelman Caldwell Black,, it entered economic partnership agreements with the Philippines, Indonesia and Vietnam that would allow up to 900 caregivers a year to come work in the country for up to four or five years each. 

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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 Sam Edelman Gene Natural Naked Vaquero Saddle Leather,Nike KD VIII 'Hunts Hill Sunrise' Trainer CP4757Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Carrin Black/Silver Groovy Sequins,.  

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 Saucony Originals Shadow Original Charcoal/Orange,Nike Kobe X 'Pain' Trainer CP4756Womens Shoes Supra Joplin Black Crinkle/White,. 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 UGG Chaney Black,Nike Air Max Tavas Trainer CP4774Womens Boots UGG Damien Black Leather,."

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