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

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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 Preseason (NFL Rams) 597120-419 College Navy/Club Gold,Jordan AJXI 632298-100 White/Legend Blue,Nike Pro Combat Core Fitted 449786-706 Volt/Volt/Cool Grey,, 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 Pro Combat Hypercool Vapor Power Compression 585130-010 Black/Black/Black,Jordan Dominate Fitted Sonic 667388-060 Dark Grey/Black/Black,Nike Pro Combat Hyperstrong Slider Tight 634674-650 University Red/University Red/Volt/Volt,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Nike Reflective (NFL Eagles) 778588-339 Sport Teal,Jordan Dominate 622181-011 Black/White,PSV Eindhoven Stadium 618817-106 Football White/Laser Blue/Football Grey/Laser Blue,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Men's Dunham Lexington Mudguard Oxford Black Oxfords (Black) - Q 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 Foamposite 1 One PRM Metallic Silver Neon Lime Black,Jordan Flight Sonic Print 667389-060 Dark Grey/Black/Black,Nike Air Force 1 CMFT Mowabb Sane Dune Black Copper Flash,, 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 Air Max 1 FB Hay Sunset Glow,KD "Easy Money" Solid Eel 744676-010 Black,Nike Air Max 90 Essential Black,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Max 90 LE Midnight Fog Black,KD Surge Elite 641306-891 Team Orange/Black/Black,Nike Air Max Lebron 10 X Low Sonic Yellow Grey,. "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 Odyssey Summit White Light Ash (652989-100),Kyrie Christmas Coral 708255-010 Black,Nike Air Trainer SC 2 II Vintage Pack Cement Grey Aquamarine,."

Men's Freewaters Zac Navy/Dark Grey Sandals (Black) - MW799E87C 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 Zoom Pegasus 32 Deep Royal Blue Black Ghost Green (749340-403),Kobe Xmas 708256-687 Gym Red,Nike Dunk Hi PRM SP Cocoa Snake Pack White Black,. 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 Jordan Fly Wade Black Varsity Red,NFL Buffalo Bills Game Jersey (E.J. Manuel) 479379-109 White,Nike Karstman Leather Boots Dark Obsidian Orange (599475-408),, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Nike Kobe 9 IX EM XDR Dusty Cactus White Red,NFL Cincinnati Bengals Game Jersey (Devon Still) 468948-031 Black/White/Brilliant Orange,Nike LeBron 12 XII EP Deep Royal Blue Silver,, 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.

UK Outlet Nike Pro Padding classic logo sports bra for Women 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 Lunar Force 1 LUX VT Low Dark Grey Red,NFL Denver Broncos Nike Platinum Jersey (Peyton Manning) 607030-100 White/Cool Grey/Pure Platinum,Nike Lunarglide+ 3 Anthracite Electrolime Black,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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UK Outlet Nike Brazil Team Victoria T for Women 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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UK Outlet Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Party floral top Shoes for Women 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 Pure Boost DPR LTD Men Sz 10.5,NFL Super Bowl Limited Jersey 659365-060 Anthracite,[Adidas] BB3454 Energy Boost Men Trainning Running Shoes Sneakers White Grey,, 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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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. Adidas Mens Originals Superstar 80s Cool Gray Suede US 8~11 BZ0216,Nike 7" Gladiator Premier 644743-088 Dove Grey/White,adidas Mens SUPERNOVA ST Running Shoes Trainers Sneakers Orange Sports,, 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.

2015 Nike Air Max Women's Shoe Black/White/Salmon/Cyan No.2783 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, Adidas Men 's Shoes Court VL Low Trainers Leather Trainers Sport Shoes Retro NEW,Nike 9" Volley NESS5317-483 Navy,Adidas Energy Boost 3 Running Shoes AQ5958 Athletic Sneakers Boots Runner Gray,, 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 - Formula 23 Toggle "Gym Red",Nike Air Pivot 646243-010 Black/White,Shoes Online - Air More Uptempo '96 "All White",.  

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, Adidas Football adizero 5-Star 5.0 Gold Cleats Maroon / Light Maroon / Metallic Gold G65q19,Nike Basketball Tri-Blend (Arizona) 00030648X-AZ5 University Red,Adidas Originals Forum Hi OG Shoes Light Onix / Aluminum F86c85,. 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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