Men's Nike Archive 83.M Grey/Yellow 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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It is demanding work, Men's Nike Tiempo Legend VII FG Red/White/Black,Men's NIKE DUAL FUSION BALLISTEC ADVANTAGE RED,Men's Nike Vandal High Supreme QS Metallic Silver/Summit White/University Red,.

"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 Nike Vapor Untouchable Pro Camo White/Metallic Gold/Anthracite,MEN'S Nike Dual Fusion X Team Red/Bright Crimson/White/White,Men's Nike Zoom All Out Low 2 White,, 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 Nike Zoom HyperRev Black/Vivid Blue,Men's NIKE DUNK HIGH PREMIUM SB Black/Valiant Red/Black,Men's Nike Zoom Kobe Venomenon 5 Radiant Emerald/Green Strike/Teal/Laser Orange,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Men's NIKE ZOOM SB STEFAN JANOSKI CANVAS Blue Lagoon/Clearwater/White/Obsidian,MEN'S NIKE ELASTICO SUPERFLY TF Laser Orange/Black/Tour Yellow/Volt,MEN'S NIKE ZOOM STREAK LT 2 White/Volt/Black,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Air Force 1 Low White Photo Blue 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 NikeLab Vandal High x John Elliott Sail/White/Sail,Men's Nike FI Impact 2 Black/White/Anthracite/Cool Grey,NIKE VAPOR CARBON 2014 ELITE TD PF Brilliant Orange/Black/White,, 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.

NIKE AIR HUARACHE UTILITY PREMIUM - WHITE MENS SHOES,Men's NIKE FI IMPACT Wolf Grey/Hyper Cobalt/Black,NIKE FREE FLYKNIT MERCURIAL - DARK OBSIDIAN MENS SHOES,, Japan is in the midst of a quiet revolution when it comes to immigrant workers. Cheep Air Jordan 1 Shoes Men VGF0529,Men's Nike Flight Bonafide Grey/White,Cheep Air Jordan 6 Shoes Kid VGF0528,.

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, Cheep Hermes Shoes Men VGF0140,Men's Nike Flyknit Lunar 3 Black/Persian Violet/Hot Lava/White,Cheep Hermes Shoes Men VGF0288,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Cheep Mcm Shoes Men VGF2775,MEN'S NIKE FLYKNIT LUNAR2 Midnight Fog/Hyper Jade/Black,Cheep Moncler Shoes Men VGF2936,. "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. "Cheep Nike Air Max 90 Shoes Men VGF3210,MEN'S NIKE FLYKNIT RACER Hyper Jade/Black/Hyper Punch,Cheep Nike Kyrie 3 Men'S Basketball Shoes VGF3185,."

Nike Air Jordan SC-2 Varsity Red Black White 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.Cheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3254,MEN'S Nike Free 3.0 CR7 Madeira Cool Grey/Black/Bright Crimson/Cool Grey,Cheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3370,. 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.

Nike Air Max 90 Ultra BR Team Red Black Bright Crimson 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 Air Foamposite One Weatherman White/Modern Blue-Flash Yellow-Green,Men's Nike Free RN 2018 Black/White,Nike Air Max 2014 Mesh Black White Blue Green,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Nike Air Pegasus+ 30 Shield Black Silver White (616242-001) 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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Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 31 Photo Blue Hyper Crimson (652925-402) 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,Reebok Classic Leather Ice Casual Shoes Men White,Men's Nike HyperLive Vivid Pink/Pink Blast/White/Black,Adidas Boost Raw Running Shoes Men Black/Grey/White,, 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, Nike Air Max 2016 Running Shoes Men Red/Black/Red,Men's Nike Hypervenom Phantom II FG Purple,Nike Air Max Turbulence Running Shoes Men Blue/Black/Blue/White,.

Nike Dunk High Pro SB Black Grey Venom Green 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 Jordan Flight Runner 2 Running Shoes Men Navy,Men's Nike Hypervenom Phelon II IC Hyper Grape/Black/Hyper Grape,Under Armour Drift Rn Neon Running Shoes Men Black/Orange,.

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. Nike Air Jordan 5 Am Training Shoes Men White/Black,Men's Nike Hypervenom Phinish II FG White/Total Orange/Volt/Black,Jordan 88 Photo 657893-100 White/Black,, 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," Jordan Fractal Fade 642469-476 Light Retro/Teal,Men's Nike HypervenomX Proximo II Dynamic Fit TF Laser Orange/Black/Volt/White,KD AW77 BB Crew 653706-451 Obsidian Heather/White/White,.

Family ties

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

Nike Free 5.0 V4 Black White Grey 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, NFL Buffalo Bills Limited Jersey (Fred Jackson) 468914-419 Old Royal,Men's Nike KD 8 "SPRAY PAINT",NFL Green Bay Packers Elite Jersey (Aaron Rodgers) 477299-100 White,, 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. Nike 2" Tempo Split 598599-612 Team Cardinal/Team White/Team White,Men's NIKE LEBRON SOLDIER 10 FLYEASE Game Royal/Black/White,Nike 9" Volley NESS5332-458 Blue,.  

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 Anchor 642086-494 Team Royal/Team White/Team White,Men's Nike Lunar Command 2 Boa Black/Black/White,Nike Branded AS 811789-010 Black/Red,. 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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