Women's Shoe Nike Air Max 1 SE 881101-300 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, Luke 1977 Complete Showers Jacket CP1438,Nike Air Huarache Run Ultra Womens Hyper Turquoise/White Running Shoes V59335Pretty Green Festival Jacket CP1501,.

"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 Hybrid Cuff Jogger CP1730,Nike Air Max Siren Womens Black/Fuchsia Flash/Sail/Hot Lava Running Shoes V18772Jack & Jones Detroit Waffle Knit Jumper CP1820,, 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. Converse Core Plus Terry Short CP2113,Nike Air Max Sequent Womens Chalk Blue/Deep Night/White/Chalk Blue Running Shoes V43620Nike Club Swoosh Short CP2176,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Condemned Nation Primo Swim Short CP2300,Nike Air Max Dynasty Womens Cool Grey/Fierce Purple/Hyper Grape/Black Running Shoes V46855Ellesse Zobi Shell Top CP3546,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Womens Boots Rocket Dog Dixie Black Hush 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, FILA Settanta Track Top CP3572,Nike Air Huarache Run Ultra Womens Bright Crimson/White Running Shoes V42045Toms Classic Canvas Slip On Espadrille CP3805,, 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, adidas Originals Mr Superstar Supershell Trainer CP4134,Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Womens University Red/Hyper Orange/Volt/Black Running Shoes V82502Asics Gel-Lyte III Trainer CP4229,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Converse Star Player Ox Nylon Trainer CP4285,Nike Air Max Tailwind 8 Womens Vivid Purple/Black/Hyper Orange/White Running Shoes V84763Creative Recreation Cesario Low Woven Trainer CP4381,. "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. "Hugo Boss Futesio Trainer CP4486,Nike Air Max 90 Womens Black/Metallic Silver/Black Running Shoes V22306Lacoste Chaymon Premium Trainer CP4532,."

Womens Sandals Sam Edelman Korinne Classic Nude 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 Max 1 Premium Trainer CP4659,Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Womens White/Wolf Grey/Metallic Silver/White Running Shoes V96721Nike Air Max 95 Trainer CP4717,. 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.

"Nike Air Max Tavas Trainer CP4774,Nike Air Max 90 Womens Midnight Navy/Black/Pure Platinum/Soar Running Shoes V64606Puma Aril Trainer CP4892,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Reebok Classic Leather Casual Trainer CP4981,Nike Air Zoom Winflo 2 Womens Dark Grey/Bright Crimson/Wolf Grey/Cool Grey Running Shoes V50152Vans Old Skool Trainer CP5067,," Kingston said.

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

Y3 Qasa High Trainer CP5125,Nike Air Zoom Pegasus 32 Womens Vivid Purple/Fuchsia Glow/Hyper Orange/Black Running Shoes V85251Toms Womens Avalon Sneaker Shoe CP5252,, 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.

Womens Shoes Saucony Velocity 5 Slime Green/Pink 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, Womens Boots Aerosoles In An Instint Tan,Nike Classic Cortez Womens White/Black/White Running Shoes V89106Womens Sandals Aerosoles A2 by Aerosoles Photo Plush Gold Metallic,, 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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Womens Boots UGG Classic Mini Navy 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,Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Gerica Dark Cherry Kid Suede,Nike Zoom Structure 18 Womens Lyon Blue/Black/Pink Pow/Clearwater Running Shoes V62596Womens Boots CARLOS by Carlos Santana Haven Wide Calf Cognac,, 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, Womens Boots Clarks Lucette Jewel Dark Brown Leather,Men's Nike Huarache Keystone Mid Black/White UK#N5-9580Womens Sandals Clarks Clarene Prima Navy Nubuck,.

Womens Boots UGG Neoma Pinecone Leather 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. Womens Sandals Clarks Sillian Wonder Black Synthetic,Men's Nike Air Max Invigor Game Royal/White UK#N5-8982Womens Shoes Clarks Tempt Appeal Nude,.

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. Womens Shoes Clarks Everlay Daphne Black Leather,Men's Nike Flex Experience RN 4 Prem Anthracite/White/White UK#N5-9093Womens Shoes Clarks Helina Amo Black,, 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.

Womens Boots UGG Classic Short Skyline Twinface 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, Womens Shoes COACH Noella Blush/Black Silk Nappa/Box Calf,Men's Nike Zoom Cage 2 Black/Hot Lava/Metallic Dark Grey UK#N5-9263Womens Boots Cole Haan Rockland Boot Chestnut Leahter,, 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. Womens Shoes Cole Haan Lockhart Skimmer Dark Silver Metallic,Nike Kids Tri Fusion Run Black/Vivid Pink/Metallic Silver UK#N5-9590Womens Boots ECCO Sculptured 75 Ankle Boot Green Gables,.  

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, Womens Sandals ECCO Dagmar Cross Sandal Black,Nike Kids Lunarglide 7 Black/White/Volt/Photo Blue UK#N5-9118Womens Shoes ECCO CS14 Casual Sneaker Moonless/Black/Black/Black,. 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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