adidas Originals Junior Adi Ease Trainer CP574 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, Womens Boots Anne Klein Kael Black Leather,adidas Originals Superstar 80s Trainer CP4173Womens Sandals Anne Klein Kalene Black/Black Fabric,.

"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 Anne Klein Rylie Cafe Latte Leather,adidas Originals Tubular X Trainer CP4184Womens Shoes Anne Klein Kallima Brown Leather,, 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 Anne Klein Youly Black Multi Suede,Bjorn Borg X100 Low Rub Trainer CP4256Womens Sandals Badgley Mischka Carey Platino,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Boots C Label Nata-11B White,Beck & Hersey Remis Trainer CP4248Womens Sandals C Label Alamo-3 Black,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike French Terry Alumni 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 Sandals C Label Napoli-24 Beige,Asics Gel-Lyte V 'Jack Frost' Trainer CP4239Womens Shoes C Label Liberty-20A Yellow Multi,, 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 Calvin Klein Dolly Marine,adidas Originals Gazelle Indoor Trainer CP4068Womens Shoes Calvin Klein Ginnie Black/Marine Leather/Patent,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Mira Blue,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Ox Mono Trainer CP4271Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Justa Leopard,. "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 Clarks Rosalyn Lara Dark Brown Leather,Converse Chuck Taylor All Star Jacquard Camo Trainer CP4293Womens Boots Clarks Kearns Flame Brown,."

Hurley Phantom Compression Three-Quarter 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 Sandals Clarks Leisa Bloom Coral Leather,Creative Recreation Kaplan Trainer CP4346Womens Sandals Clarks Un Neema 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.

"Womens Shoes Clarks Candra Glare Cognac Patent Leather,Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Stingray Trainer CP4330Womens Shoes Clarks Sillian Intro Dark Brown,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes Clarks Crewso Wick Black,Creative Recreation Kaplan Croc Mesh Trainer CP4353Womens Boots COACH Tristee Khaki/Chestnut,," 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

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Womens Shoes COACH Ray Black Smoke/Black,Cruyff Cyclone Trainer CP4400Womens Boots Cole Haan Balthasar Chukka 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.

Women's Ultimate V-neck Tee 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 Sandals Cole Haan Nassau Wedge Black/Gunsmoke/Ivory,Creative Recreation Kaplan Snake Trainer CP4374Womens Shoes Cole Haan Air Bacara Ballet Empire Blue Patent,, 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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Wholesale UK Converse Pro Star Grey Black Red Shoes DlF2FpID 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 New Balance W690v4 Lead/Black,Nike Roshe Run Trainer CP4626Womens Shoes New Balance Classics WL574 - Woven Collection Grey/Textile,, 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 Shoes Nike Dual Fusion TR 3 Clearwater/Light Blue Lacquer/Ice Cube Blue/White,Nike Safari Deconstruct Trainer CP4642Womens Shoes Nike Internationalist Wolf Grey/Pure Platinum/Cool Grey/Summit White,.

Authentic 938i2 xqzmrg August Deals Nike Air Max Thea Mens 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 Shoes Nike Revolution 3 Chalk Blue/Concord/White,Nike Air Max 90 Ultra Breathe Trainer CP4708Womens Boots PATRIZIA Insightful Grey,.

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 Sandals PATRIZIA Kochi Gold,Nike Air Jordan 7 Retro 'Bordeaux' Trainer CP4747Womens Shoes PATRIZIA Imaginative Dark Brown,, 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," Womens Shoes PUMA FashIN Diag Gore Italian Plum/Whisper White/Puma Silver,Nike Zoom Stefan Janoski Leather Trainer CP4722Womens Shoes Reebok Trail Grip 4.0 RS Lavender Grey/Steel/Shark/Fierce Fuchsia,.

Family ties

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

Authentic inn4k mrshi2 Cheap Nike Air Max 90 Womens 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, Womens Boots Rocket Dog Elka Black Sierras,Nike Air Force 1 Trainer CP4809Womens Shoes Rocket Dog Jazzin Black Prismatic,, 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 Sam Edelman Delilah Golden Caramel Leather,Nike Air Huarache Low Trainer CP4836Womens Shoes Saucony Excursion TR9 Black/Pink,.  

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 Shoes Supra Skytop White/Print/White,Puma Court Star OG Trainer CP4904Womens Boots UGG Thomsen Stout,. 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.

"I want to have a child next year," Womens Boots UGG Dayle Black Leather,Puma Disc Blaze 'Bright Pack' Trainer CP4923Womens Boots UGG Renatta Stout,."

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