Shopping 232032 Nike Air Force 1 Men 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

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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, Nike Kevin Durant Men Coupon_1753,Discount 169436 Nike Air Max 90 Men White Black Shoes,LEBRON 12 LIFESTYLE Challenge Red/Challenge Red,, 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 Boot Jordan Future 854554-600,Discount 230634 Nike Air Max 90 Men Black White Shoes,Men's Lacrosse Clea Nike Vapor Speed 684837-160,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's Nike Shoe Flyknit Lunar 3 698181-013,Authentic 148526 Nike Air Max 90 Men White Blue Shoes,Men's Running Shoe Nike Air Max 2017 849559-600,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Shoes New Balance 560v6 Metallic SIlver/Exuberant Pink 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, Men's Shoe (Extra-Wide) Nike Dual Fusion X 2 819317-002,Inexpensive 232124 Nike Air Max 90 Hypefuse Men Brown Green Shoes,Men's Shoe Jordan Reveal 834064-601,, 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, Men's Training Shoe Nike Jordan Flight Flex Trainer 2 768911-005,Inexpensive 196882 Nike Air Max Wavy Men Black Purple Shoes,NIKE AIR MAX 95 Black/Medium Ash/Cool Grey/Black,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, NIKE FLYKNIT LUNAR 3 Squadron Blue/Blue Lagoon/Fuchsia Flash/Cl,Shopping 220097 Nike Classic Cortez Nylon Men Blue Black Shoes,NIKE SB LUNAR ONESHOT Black/White,. "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. "Women's Shoe Nike Air Huarache Premium 683818-005,Cheap 215257 Nike Dunk High Men Blue Orange Shoes,Women's Shoe Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 33 831356-602,."

Womens Shoes Nike Zoom Fit Dark Grey/Vivd Purple/Hyper Orange 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.Women's Shoe NikeCourt Zoom Vapor 9.5 Tour 631475-504,Comfortable 159635 Nike Dunk High Men Shoes,Nike Roshe One Boys Preschool Light Crimson/White/Racer Blue/Obsidian Running Shoes V60944,. 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.

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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, Adidas Sonic Allegra Womens White/Silver Metallic/Frozen Yellow Tennis Shoes V94274,Cheap 183881 Nike Free Run 2 Men Grey Purple White Shoes,Nike Air Max 90 Womens Midnight Navy/Black/Pure Platinum/Soar Running Shoes V64606,, 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 Shoes Rocket Dog Tictoc Black Space Rock 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 Gazelle OG Trainer CP3948,Comfortable 194898 Nike Shox Nz Men White Yellow Shoes,adidas Originals Los Angeles Print Trainer CP4103,, 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.

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Womens Sandals Sam Edelman Henley Soft Nude Kid Suede 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. Nike Air Max 93 Trainer CP4621,Shopping 244113 Nike Shox R4 Men Grey Black Shoes,adidas Originals ZX 8000 Boost Trainer CP4105,.

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. Reebok Furylite Trainer CP4996,Discount 193623 Nike Shox Rivalry Men White Pink Shoes,Toms Womens Classic Slip On Espadrille CP5201,, 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.

Womens Shoes Saucony Hurricane ISO Grey/Twilight/Citron 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. Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Polo White Satin,Comfortable 190220 Onitsuka Tiger By Asics Mexico 66 Men Black White Shoes,Womens Shoes C Label Napoli-25 Gold,.  

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 Sandals Calvin Klein Collection Sibil 1 Watermelon,Shopping 162430 Adidas Originals Superstar Unisex Black White Shoes,Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Leilani Black Cow Silk,. 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 Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Kelly Brulee,Authentic 180037 Nike Air Max Unisex Black White Shoes,Womens Boots Clarks Merrian Lynn Black Leather,."

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