Shopping 222167 Nike Air Force 1 Women Purple Light White Shoes 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

Men's Shoe Nike Duel Racer 918228-101,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1207Men's Shoe Nike Hypershift 844369-310,. 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, Men's Shoe Nike MercurialX Finale II TF 831975-870,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1170Men's Shoe Nike Roshe Two Flyknit 365 859535-001,.

"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, Men's Shoe Nike Ultra XT Mesh 833910-001,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1210Men's Shoe NikeCourt Air Zoom Ultra React 859719-001,, 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. Men's Training Shoe Nike Metcon 1 Amplify 725183-082,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1192Men's Training Shoe Nike Zoom Speed Trainer 3 804401-600,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. NIKE AIR MAX 1 ULTRA MOIRE 704995-101,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1224NIKE AIR MAX THEA PRINT Light Blue Lacquer/Clearwater/White,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Boots C Label Nata-11B Grey 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, Nike Flyknit Racer Unisex Running Shoe 526628-009,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1216NIKE FREE 5.0 Titanium/Pure Platinum/Volt,, 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, Women's Shoe Nike Air Rift Premium QS 848502-500,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1307Women's Shoe Nike Free TR 6 833413-142,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Women's Shoe Nike Roshe One Hyperfuse BR 833826-400,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1289Nike Air Max 90 Girls Toddler Black/White/Volt/Bright Crimson Running Shoes V37078,. "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 Roshe One Boys Preschool Black/Cool Grey Running Shoes V15195,New Balance 574 Men Coupon_1291Adidas D Rose 6 Boys Grade School Scarlet/White/Black Basketball Shoes V74161,."

Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Prina Black Baby Python 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 Max 90 Boys Grade School Black/Blue Lagoon/Dark Grey/White/Volt Running Shoes V14206,New Balance 996 Men Coupon_1314Nike Roshe One Boys Grade School Black/White/Metallic Silver Running Shoes V35153,. 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

Adidas Voloomix Mens Black/Vivid Red Slippers V29755,New Balance 1400 Women Coupon_1399Nike Air Max Excellerate 4 Mens Black/Game Royal/Deep Royal/White Running Shoes V18915,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Nike Air Max 2016 Mens Blue Lagoon/Brave Blue/Volt/Black Running Shoes V39561,New Balance Women Coupon_1382Nike Zoom Streak LT 3 Unisex Running Shoe 819038-601,, 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 Shoes Calvin Klein Karmen Cocoon Haircalf/Leather 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 Free Rn Mens Black/Anthracite/White Running Shoes V13624,New Balance 574 Women Coupon_1447Nike Zoom Elite 8 Mens Blue Lagoon/Copa/Game Royal/Black Running Shoes V39802,, 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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Womens Boots Clarks Brynn Fern Grey Leather/Suede 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,adidas Originals Nursery Tubular Trainer CP717,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1638Jack & Jones Clark Original JOS 318 Jean CP873,, 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, Antony Morato Sleeveless Hooded Top CP968,Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1714Gym King Full Zip Hooded Top CP1071,.

Womens Sandals Clarks Leisa Bloom Coral Leather 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. Brave Soul MJK Armour Parka Jacket CP1253,Nike Derrick Rose Men Coupon_1670Creative Recreation Davies Drop Needle Bomber Jacket CP1325,.

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. Majestic Raiders Ricker Windrunner CP1448,Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1728Ellesse Rocco Skinny Poly Legging CP1674,, 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," Alphalab Motion Short CP2069,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1784UCLA Stencil Fleece Short CP2210,.

Family ties

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

Womens Shoes Clarks Amelia Page White Leather 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, Alessandro Zavetti Picentini Track Top CP3537,Nike Kevin Durant War Boots Men Coupon_1781Timberland City Shuffler Chukka Boot CP3774,, 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. adidas Originals Superstar RT Trainer CP4141,KD7 EXT Black/SailConverse Chuck Taylor All Star MA-1 Zip Trainer CP4296,.  

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, Creative Recreation Cesario Low Woven Trainer CP4381,Men's Baseball Cleat Nike Trout 2 Pro 807133-010Kenzo Tenniz Nappa Trainer CP4505,. 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," Nike Safari Deconstruct Trainer CP4641,Men's Basketball Shoe Nike Air Max Audacity 2016 843884-101Nike Air Force 1 Low Trainer CP4778,."

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