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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"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, Cheep Air Jordan 14(Xvi) Shoes Men VGF0543,Men's NIKE MAYFLY WOVEN Bronze/Summit White/BlackCheep Air Jordan 7 Shoes Men VGF0569,, 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. Cheep Hermes Shoes Men VGF0118,Men's Nike MagistaX Proximo TF Total Orange/Laser Orange/White/Dark GreyCheep Hermes Shoes Men VGF0198,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Cheep Hermes Shoes Men VGF0284,MEN'S NIKE MERCURIAL SUPERFLY FG Black/GoldCheep Mcm Shoes Men VGF2777,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike Reflective Long-Sleeve (NFL Jets) 799252-063 Dark Grey Heather 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, Cheep Michael Kors Shoes Men VGF2798,MEN'S NIKE MERCURIAL SUPERFLY FG Black/PinkCheep Nike Air Max 89 Shoes Men VGF3236,, 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, Cheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3440,Men's Nike Mercurial Superfly Heritage FG Multi/Multi IIICheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3457,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Cheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3578,MEN'S NIKE MERCURIAL SUPERFLY SG-PRO Squadron Blue/Black/Squadron BlueCheep Philipp Plein Shoes Men VGF3624,. "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 Store Men's Baseball Tights,Men's Nike Mercurial Superfly V Dynamic Fit SG-PRO Anti-Clog Laser Orange/White/Volt/BlackAir Jordan 3 Retro Black Cement Black/Varsity Red-Cement Grey,."

Nike Air Force 1 Low VT Supreme Medium Grey Overspray 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 7 (VII) Retro C&C White/Metallic Gold-Black,Men's NIKE MERCURIAL SUPERFLY V FG 'Rainbow'Air Jordan XX9 (29) Black/Black-White,. 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 Air Max 2015 Green Black Red,Men's NIKE MERCURIAL VAPOR XI FG Laser OrangeNike Hyperdunk 2014 Chicago City Dark Grey/Hyper Crimson-Volt,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

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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 ZX 8000 Black White Mens Leather Shoes,Men's NIKE MERCURIAL VICTORY IV IC Vibrant Yellow/Neo Lime/Metallic Silver/BlackMens Nike Roshe Run 2014 University Red Grey White Black Running Shoes,, 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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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. Under Armour Scorpio 2 Running Shoes Men Blue/Black/White,Men's Nike React Hyperdunk 2017 Low Black/Anthracite/White/Metallic SilverNike Metcon 2 Training Shoes Men Black/Green/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. Jordan 23 Statement BHM 642461-100 White/Black,Men's Nike Roshe LD-1000 Light Base Grey/White/Vapor BlueJordan Flight Knit 642240-011 Black/Light Green Spark/White,, 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," KD "Game LocKD Tight" 644612-401 Clearwater/Black/Black,Men's Nike Roshe One Flyknit Premium Gym RedLeBron DNA Elite 641163-011 Black/Black/Black/Volt,.

Family ties

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

Nike Air Rift MTR 10th Anniversary Genealogy Black Pack 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 Cleveland Browns Game Jersey (Joe Haden) 479383-103 White,Men's Nike Roshe One Print Iguana/Dark Loden/Bamboo/SailNFL Houston Texans Game Jersey (Arian Foster) 479417-687 Gym Red/Marine,, 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 "With Us" (NFL Eagles) 749546-339 Sport Teal,Men's Nike SB Dunk Low Pro Ishod Wair NAVYNike 9" Court 645045-407 Blue Lagoon/White/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, Nike Air Pivot 646243-361 Light Green Spark/Black,Men's NIKE SB ERIC KOSTON HUARACHE Cool Grey/White/Gum Light Brown/BlackNike Bonded Dot Futura 644186-657 University Red/Team 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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