Men's Nike Dri-FIT Full-Zip - Training Hoodie IQ395164n 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.

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The demand for construction workers is intensifying before the 2020 Olympics, Cheap Big Kids Nike Air More Uptempo Heat Map Sale,Men's Nike Dri-FIT Touch Fleece Half-Zip (MLB Twins) - Training Top FR591707e,Cheap Mens KD 10 X LMTD EP Warriors Royal Blue Gold AA4197 900 Sale,, 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, Cheap Rise And Shine Black Rainbow Green Yellow Red Mens Nike Kyrie 4 Sale,Men's Nike MM Fly Roll - Slim Fit Golf Polo RF982304b,Nike Air Force 1 High Bhm AF1 836227 001,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Force 1 Ultra Flyknit MiD Brown Men,Men's Nike Championship Drive Hybrid Fleece (NFL Bills) - Pants HA467283s,Nike Air VaporMax Flyknit Black Red 849558-010,. "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. "Air Jordan 3 Kids Shoes Black/Blue/Orange /Nike Jordan [ N86],Men's NFL Green Bay Packers Limited Jersey (Clay Matthews) - Football Jersey OO433135u,Kids Nike Free Run 2 Running Shoes Gray/White/Pink /Nike Jordan [ N39],."

Latest Nike Sportswear Air Presto Black Sneakers for Men Online Sale 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.Air Jordan 3 Men Fluff Shoes Black/Blue/Orange /Nike Jordan [ N1477],Men's Nike Dri-FIT Touch Henley (NFL Patriots) - Top MK573938l,Air Jordan 6 Men Fur Shoes Red/Grey White /Nike Jordan [ N1609],. 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, Nike Air Max 90 VT Running Shoes Army Camo /Nike Jordan [ N146],Men's Nike 9" Elite Stripe Plus - Basketball Shorts SW778803l,Nike Air Max Classic BW 91 Men Shoes All Black /Nike Jordan [ N2071],, 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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New Nike Sportswear Modern Black Shorts for Men Outlet Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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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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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Nike Zoom Lebron 10 Unisex Basketball Shoes Red/Black /Nike Jordan [ N1242],Men's Jordan 360 Fleece - Sweatpants AG743663k,Asics Gt-2000 4 Men's Running Shoes White Black COMUK:4029,.

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. Saucony Endorphin Racer Men's Running Shoes Yellow COMUK:6437,Men's NikeCourt Rafa AeroReact Challenger - Top AI342636p,New balance Fresh Foam M980V2 Men's Running Shoes Fashion COMUK:3062,, 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.

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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. New Nike Air Jordan 1 I Retro High OG Banned Bred Black Red 555088-001 sz 16,Men's Nike V442 Woven - Pants QQ30069i,Nike Air Jordan 11 Retro Low Concord 528895-153 Bred A,.  

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, Nike Air Jordan 17+ Retro White Copper Black 832816-122US 10.5/11,Men's Nike Windrunner - Jacket MI805836e,NEW: MEN'S NIKE AIR MAX 2016 SZ 14 BLUE LAGOON/BLACK RETAIL #806771-400,. 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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