adidas Originals Los Angeles Trainer CP4182 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 Sandals COACH Brittanie Black/Saddle Matte Calf,Womens Sandals ALDO Chacien TanWomens Sandals COACH May 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 Shoes COACH Flash Nude Suede,Womens Boots Anne Klein Joetta Wide Calf Cognac Suede/Cognac LeatherWomens Shoes COACH Kira Beechwood/Cream Soft Shine Calf/Snake,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Boots Cole Haan Russell Boot Black,Womens Shoes ALDO Aceidia-U FuchsiaWomens Boots Cole Haan Sylvan Bootie Black Leather/Black Suede,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Cheap ine75 b34yt5 August Deals Nike Air Presto Womens 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 Cole Haan Jillian Wedge Blazer Blue/Optic White Stripe Snake Print,Womens Shoes ALDO Haollan Black/WhiteWomens Shoes Cole Haan Juliana Low Sling 45 Sandstone Lizard Print,, 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 ECCO Touch 55 Tall Boot Black,Womens Boots Anne Klein Talasi Black LeatherWomens Sandals ECCO Touch Ankle Strap Sandal Moon Rock/Moon Rock,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Shoes ECCO Sculptured 75 T-Strap Black/Black,Womens Boots Anne Klein Seabed Black LeatherWomens Shoes ECCO CS14 Casual Sneaker Cocoa Brown/Mahogany/Tomato,. "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 ECCO Sport Yura Black/Morillo,Womens Boots Anne Klein Yeppy Black FabricWomens Sandals GUESS Guavva Black,."

Discount 9zpan ihwpg6 August Deals Superstar Mens Black 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 GUESS Hilarie3 Blue Patent,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Petrica Light Pink LeatherWomens Boots Hunter Huntress Gloss Black,. 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 Naturalizer Metro Oxford Brown Smooth/Microfiber,Womens Shoes Anne Klein AK Sport - Sloane BlackWomens Boots Naturalizer Macnair Wide Shaft Malt Taupe,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Shoes Naturalizer Kyndell Cognac Leather,Womens Shoes Anne Klein AK Sport - Moyna Charcoal PatentWomens Shoes Naturalizer Orianne Grey Plaid/Black Smooth,," 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 New Balance WW659 Grey/Red,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Barb Black Twinkle LeatherWomens Shoes New Balance WT910v2 Purple/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 New Balance W690v4 Grey/Orange,Womens Shoes Anne Klein AKSport Staycalm PewterWomens Shoes Nike Genicco White/Hyper Punch/Wolf Grey/Bright Mango,, 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.

Online 8qvb4 hdw2di August Deals Nike Free 50 Mens 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 Nike Air Pegasus '83 Grey Mist/Black/White,Womens Shoes Anne Klein Fion Purple SuedeWomens Shoes Nike Zoom Fit Volt/Dark Grey/White/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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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 UGG Soleil Black Suede/Leather,Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Scarlett Ivory Satin/ChiffonWomens Boots UGG Zea Black Leather,.

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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. Womens Boots Vaneli Lana Black Suede/Black Elastic/Mtch Zip,Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Allie Ivory Satin/Silk ChiffonWomens Sandals Vaneli Martey Black Pesca Fabric/Black Mag Patent/Gunmetal Buckle,, 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.

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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. Nike Tournament Knit,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Salomon Black LeatherRed Bull Racing Team Softshell Jacket,.  

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, Men's Superstar Shoe Box Track Jacket,Womens Boots Calvin Klein Charlaine Shadow Grey Kid Suede/PatentGolf Glitch Stripe Polo,. 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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