Womens Boots Anne Klein AKIseeyou Black/Black Fabric 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, Womens Shoes New Balance WX20v4 Spectrum Blue/Hi-Lite,Womens Boots COACH Adella Black CalfWomens Shoes New Balance Pacev1 Persian Purple,, 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. Womens Shoes New Balance W496V2 White,Womens Boots COACH Adella Grey Burnish CalfWomens Shoes New Balance Classics WL696 Black Suede/Textile/Leather,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes Nike Zoom Cage 2 White/Pure Platinum/Metallic Silver,Womens Sandals COACH Caleigh Black Soft Vegan LeatherWomens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 Tr Fit 5 Breathe Pure Platinum/Cool Grey/Pink Pow/Fireberry,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Shopping 231851 Air Jordan 1 Ko Men Black Red White Shoes 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, Womens Shoes Nike Downshifter 6 Black/Blue Lagoon/White/Fuchsia Glow,Womens Sandals COACH Emily Saddle Semi Matte CalfWomens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 TR Fit 5 MTLC Black/FLT Silver/Metallic Silver,, 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, Womens Shoes PUMA Arial Basic Sports White/Fluro Yellow,Womens Sandals COACH Natasha Anthracite Metallic TumbledWomens Shoes PUMA Pulse FLEX XT Bleached Denim/Astral Aura,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Shoes Reebok Speed Rise Black/Blazing Pink/White,Womens Sandals COACH Pelican Plum Shiny JellyWomens Shoes Reebok Run Supreme 2.0 MT Alloy/Tin Grey/Celestial Orchid/White,. "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. "Womens Boots Rocket Dog Tipton Brown Galaxy,Womens Sandals COACH Barkley Saddle Semi Matte CalfWomens Shoes Rocket Dog Treasure Black Hawaii Dream,."

Discount 162082 Air Jordan Retro Men White Red Shoes 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.Womens Shoes Rocket Dog Tictoc Caramel Moonlight,Womens Sandals COACH May SaddleWomens Boots Sam Edelman Caldwell Rome/Soft Silver Boucle/Opal Metallic Leather,. 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.

"Womens Sandals Sam Edelman Brynn Natural Naked Atanado Leather,Womens Shoes COACH Phoebe Black/Black Semi Matte CalfWomens Shoes Sam Edelman Rae Bright Blue,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Lacey Black,Womens Shoes COACH Steffi Warm Pewter Mirror MetallicWomens Shoes Saucony Excursion TR9 Grey/Blue,," 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

Womens Shoes Superga 2311 Leahorsew Bordeaux,Womens Shoes COACH Indie Black/Natural ShearlingWomens Boots Timberland Whittemore Chelsea Dark Brown Woodlands,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Boots UGG Bailey Button Grey,Womens Shoes COACH Olie Fatigue SuedeWomens Boots UGG Brooks Black,, 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.

Discount 197106 New Balance Mrc5000 Men Green Orange Shoes 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 UGG Bryce Lodge Leather,Womens Shoes COACH Lara Metallic Nude StuddedWomens Boots UGG Lorraine Chocolate/Water Resistant Leather,, 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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Authentic 212095 Nike Air Force 1 Men Black White Purple Shoes 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,Women's Optical Trefoil Tee,Womens Boots Cole Haan Smithson Bootie Stormcloud SuedeMen's Response Shorts,, 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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Shopping 236386 Nike Air Max Men Blue Black Shoes 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)

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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. NikeCourt Victory Premier,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Chelsea Pump Maple Sugar PatentWomen's Techfit Long Tights,, 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.

Cheap 190189 Nike Air Max Men Purple White Shoes 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. 

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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. Buy 9z5cf nsgqi8 August Deals ZX Flux Mens,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bethany Open Toe Pump Black PatentBuy m9r6e ybfg7c August Deals Nike Air Max 2015 Mens,.  

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, Cheap 2nvvk drx82t August Deals Nike Air Max Thea Mens,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Cee Sandal Optic White/Snake PrintCheap esr4g w5n6d7 August Deals Nike Air Max 1 Womens,. 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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