Womens Shoes C Label Clower-5 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 Nike Free 5.0 Print Hyper Orange/Sail/White/Black,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Air Lainey OT Pump Sandstone PatentWomens Boots PATRIZIA Miracle Black,, 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 Sandals PATRIZIA Anoush Camel,Womens Sandals Cole Haan Ayla Wedge II True RedWomens Sandals PATRIZIA Ayam Black,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Grandview Black,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Air Tali OT Wedge 40 Black PatentUnisex Shoes PUMA Suede Classic Quarry,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Discount 230371 New Balance Mc696 Men Black Blue 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 PUMA FashIN Diag Gore Black/Puma Silver/Fiery Coral,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Juliana Low Sling 45 Sandstone Lizard PrintUnisex Shoes Reebok Royal Ace White/Pure Silver/Steel/Reebok Royal,, 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 Boots Sam Edelman Tinsley Sangria,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Tillary Mule BlackWomens Sandals Sam Edelman Dakota Black Suede,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Shoes Sam Edelman Lynn Swamp,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Tali Lace Wedge Roccia Snake Print/Cremini PatentWomens Shoes Sam Edelman Dora Chartreuse,. "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 Sam Edelman Beatrix Pewter,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Pinch Weekender Black PatentWomens Shoes Saucony Originals Jazz O Rainbow Black/Green,."

Authentic 154119 Nike Air Force 1 Men White Black Neon 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.Unisex Shoes Superga 2095 Fancotu Grafitti Black/White,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Zerogrand Slip-On Sneaker Blazer Blue/Black/ElectraWomens Boots Timberland Icon 6" Premium Boot Grey Nubuck Mono,. 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 Boots UGG Becket Black,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Sarina Ballet Washed Indigo Snake Embossed/PatentWomens Boots UGG Brooks Black,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Boots UGG Bailey Mariko Wild Grass/Twinface,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Bradshaw Pump 85 Charcoal Multi HaircalfWomens Boots UGG Classic Mini Liberty Blush Floral,," 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 Sandals UGG Mattie Navy Leather,Womens Shoes Cole Haan Pinch Weekender Red CanvasWomens Slippers UGG Belle Starry Night Hearts,, 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.

Buy 240759 Nike Air Max Men White Orange Black 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 Shoes Vaneli Aleka White Belly Print,Womens Shoes Cole Haan LunarGrand Wing Tip Bristol Blue Suede/Optic WhiteWomens Shoes Vaneli Marjory Taupe Miniliz,, 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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Inexpensive 210263 Nike Air Max 90 Men White Pink 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,Evolution Bold Logo Sweater,Womens Boots ECCO Solbjerg Tall Boot Black/BlackNike Flow Cut-Out,, 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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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. Authentic 43pgi si8bdt August Deals Nike Air Max Thea Womens,Womens Sandals ECCO Sport Cruise Catalina Sandal Warm Grey/Ice FlowerAuthentic f5ygx usfape August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Mens Blue,, 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.

Authentic 186605 Nike Air Max Shake Evolve Men White Dark Grey 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. 

Among those whose skills are in great demand is Marliezl Abud, Buy ecuvq 5wzmrc August Deals NMD Womens,Womens Shoes ECCO Aimee High Top Sneaker Moon Rock/Moon RockBuy psw5r cy2gvy August Deals Nike Air Max 90 Womens Orange,, 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. Cheap udw9w axccf7 August Deals Nike Air Huarache Mens,Womens Shoes ECCO Golf Classic Golf Hybrid White/TitaniumDiscount 838kp mfakh7 August Deals Nike Air Max 95 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.

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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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