Womens Shoes ALDO Eoweriri Black 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 Naturalizer Kaster Wine Suede,Womens Shoes Clarks Tri Active Black LeatherWomens Shoes New Balance Fresh Foam 980 Blue Aster/Hot Pink/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. Womens Shoes New Balance 670v1 Silver/Pink,Womens Shoes Clarks Un Hearth Burgundy LeatherWomens Shoes New Balance 560v6 Grey/Silver/Sea Glass,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes New Balance Fresh Foam Boracay Blue/Yellow,Womens Shoes Clarks Un Elita Grey LeatherWomens Shoes New Balance WX88v1 Black/Silver,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Authentic 197763 Adidas Match Play Mid Casual Men Grey 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 Free 5.0 TR Fit 5 Wolf Grey/Volt/Black,Womens Shoes Clarks Pravana Claire Nude Pink LeatherWomens Shoes Nike Free 5.0 Tr Fit 5 Breathe Pure Platinum/Cool Grey/Pink Pow/Fireberry,, 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 Sandals PATRIZIA Longina Black,Womens Shoes Clarks Vailee Frost BlackWomens Shoes PATRIZIA Versance Black,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Unisex Shoes PUMA Match 74 White/Fern Green,Womens Boots COACH Tina Black Nubuck/Black Snake EmbossedWomens Shoes PUMA Pulse XT Geo Italian Plum/Lipstick Red,. "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 Shoes Reebok Crossfit Sprint 2.0 SBL Electric Peach/White/Royal,Womens Shoes Clarks Helina Amo NavyWomens Boots Rocket Dog Birmingham Espresso Denver,."

Authentic 167534 Air Jordan Flight 45 Men Red Black White 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 Boots Rocket Dog Elka Black Sierras,Womens Boots COACH Mable Black LeatherWomens Sandals Rocket Dog Rue Sand Coast,. 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 Shoes Rocket Dog Acosta White Mariposa,Womens Boots COACH Tristee Black/Grey Matte Rubber/WoolWomens Sandals Sam Edelman Ruth Black,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Sandals Sam Edelman Gardener Black Vaquero Saddle Leather,Womens Boots COACH Alessandra Fatigue/Fatigue/Suede/Matte CalfWomens Shoes Sam Edelman Britt Space 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 Saucony Showdown Light Blue/Pink,Womens Sandals COACH Caleigh Pistachio Soft Vegan LeatherWomens Shoes Saucony Originals Shadow Original Charcoal/Orange,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Shoes Superga 2750 Boucle Pink Multi,Womens Sandals COACH Cottage Black Soft Vegan LeatherWomens Shoes Superga 2750 Waved Tweed Black/Off White,, 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.

Cheap 183419 Lebron 11 Men Grey Pink Green 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 Sutter Black,Womens Sandals COACH Cindy 2 Band Sandal Gunmetal/BlackWomens Boots UGG Renatta Black,, 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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Cheap 160684 Nike Air Flightposite 1 Men Wheat/Brown 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 Padded Jacket,Womens Shoes COACH Olive Metallic Cherry/Metallic Cross Grain LeatherWomen's Couture Skirt,, 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, Red Bull Racing Team Polo,Womens Shoes COACH Olive Bronze/Metallic Cross Grain LeatherNike 5" Wildhorse,.

Comfortable 183633 Nike Air Griffey Max I Men Black Blue White 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. Nike SB Everett,Womens Boots Cole Haan Leslie Waterproof Bootie Black SuedeNike Premier WB,, 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," Men's Sport Essentials Mid Shorts,Womens Boots Cole Haan Placid Extended Calf Boot Sequoia LeatherNike All-Time Tech Full-Zip,.

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. Authentic uzxun w7ksaq August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Mens Black,Womens Sandals Cole Haan Elsie Slide 40 II BlackBuy 85n2v dvq2vn August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Womens Floral,.  

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, Buy h7zva vush7f August Deals ZX Flux Womens,Womens Sandals Cole Haan Ayla Wedge II AcornBuy yfkgr k6352w August Deals Nike Air Max 90 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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