Nike Free Trainer 3.0 V4 Training Shoes Men Black/Grey 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

Nike Air Force 1 AF1 Downtown QS Satin White Pearl,Nike Dri-FIT Touch Fleece 3/4 644295-010 Black/AnthraciteNike Air Force 1 Low LV8 VT Star Independence Day Black,. 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. 

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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 Air Jordan 2 II Retro QF University Blue,Nike Dri-FIT Touch Long-Sleeve 644371-016 Black Pine/Black/Heather/Cool GreyNike Air Jordan CP3. 4 VI X Black White Vegas Gold,, 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. Nike Air Jordan Future Premium Mettalic Silver Black,Nike Dri-FIT UV 523065-101 White/Black/BlackNike Air Max 1 Hyperfuse PRM Neutral Grey Volt,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Air Max 2014 Anthracite Light Crimson Orange,Nike Dri-FIT Victory 509167-010 Black/WhiteNike Air Max 90 Essential Summit White Chalk,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Men's Clarks Wallabee Beeswax Leather Oxfords (Beeswax Leather) 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 Air Max 90 Lunar C3.0 White Turbo Green Atomic Teal,Nike Dri-FIT Victory 509167-100 White/BlackNike Air Max 95 PREM Tape QS Neon Cool Grey 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, Nike Blazer Mid PRM Vintage City Floral Pack Chicago Polar Multi Color,Nike Element Half-Zip 504606-475 Dark Obsidian/AnthraciteNike Dunk CMFT PRM Wolf Grey White,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Flight 13 Mid Black Photo Blue Pure Platinum,Nike Dri-FIT Wool Tech Natural Touch 630590-010 Black/Black/Black/Metallic SilverNike Flyknit Racer 2015 Black White Volt,. "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 Free Flyknit Chukka Wolf Grey Photo Blue,Nike Elite Coach (NFL Jaguars) 597156-010 Black/Blustery/WhiteNike Free Run+ 2 LX Liu Xiang Pack 2 Imperial Purple,."

Men's Dr. Martens Keith Tan Oxfords (Tan) - GI632A25R 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 Hyperize Supreme Maui Invitational PE Midnight Navy Red,Nike Elite City AS 716448-010 Black/White/WhiteNike Jordan Eclipse Ghost Green Black Green Pulse,. 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

Nike Lunar Air Force 1 Duck boot Black Gold Dart Light British Tan,Nike Essential 644256-010 Black/Anthracite/VoltNike Lunarglide 6 Black Gym Red,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Nike Max LeBron 11 XI Low SE Championship Pack,Nike Fast Logo (NFL Giants) 607306-495 Rush Blue/Dark Grey HeatherNike Rosherun Roshe Run Flyknit Pink Flash Lime,, 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, Nike Team Training Gym Drawstring Sack Bag Volt Black (BA4728-058),Nike Fast Logo (NFL Patriots) 607304-419 College Navy/Dark Grey HeatherNike Zoom Flightclub TF Invisible Pack Red,, 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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Men's Gola Seeker Mesh Sneakers (Black) - FK085V05C 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 Swift Run Men 's Raw Gold/Black/White CQ2117,Nike HBR 545347-010 Black/White/Whiteadidas Originals Tubular Shadow Men 's White/White/Black CQ0929,, 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, Adidas Adistar Boost M Chill Men 's Running Shoes Sport B44142,Nike Hyper Elite 645085-413 Light Blue Lacquer/Black/Pink Powadidas Lite Racer Trainers Mens Black Athletic Sneakers Shoes,.

Men's Hush Puppies Gus Tan Leather Oxfords (Tan Leather) - TS178 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. ADIDAS SUPERSTAR OG Black-White retro 60s vintage sneakers new,Nike Hyper Elite (Syracuse) 00031565X-10H WhiteAdidas Superstar 80S Nigo [M21510] Original Casual Black/White,.

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. MEN 'S SHOES SNEAKERS ADIDAS SWIFT RUN [CQ2115],Nike Hypercool Dri-FIT 3/4-Sleeve (MLB Twins) 00030455X-TW1 Navyadidas Barricade Club Black White Silver Men Tennis Shoes Sneakers CM7781,, 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.

UK Outlet Nike epic Block Party Halter Sleeve Swim top Cortaini for Women 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, Mens ADIDAS HAMBURG White Leather Trainers BB2779,Nike Ignite 639857-010 Black/CyberADIDAS ORIGINALS 350 Shoes Leather Men 's Shoes Sneakers Leisure Retro NEW,, 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. Shoes Online - Stan Smith "Core Black",Nike KO Chain Fleece Pullover (NFL Seahawks) 597416-419 College Navy/Action GreenShoes Online - MRL 247 OS "Sherbert",.  

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, Shoes Online - Air Vortex "Armory Navy",Nike KO Chainmaille 597792-075 Magnet Grey/Magnet GreyAdidas Soccer ACE 16+ PURECONTROL Firm Ground Cleats Solar Green N31j11,. 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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