adidas Originals Nursery Kiel Trainer CP708 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 Anne Klein Ifonly Ivory Multi Fabric,Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Trainer CP4348Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Kassidy Platino Glitter/Suede,, 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 Badgley Mischka Pearson Indigo Navy Satin,Creative Recreation Cesario Low XVI Diamonds Trainer CP4340Womens Shoes Badgley Mischka Roanna II Platino Metallic Suede,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Womens Sandals C Label Tash-11 Black,Creative Recreation Kaplan Trainer CP4332Womens Shoes C Label Clower-3 Wine,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

Nike MM Fly Blade Block 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 Boots Calvin Klein Berrie Dark Cherry Waxy Suede,Creative Recreation Forlano Diamonds Trainer CP4343Womens Sandals Calvin Klein Casely Black Patent/Leather,, 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 CARLOS by Carlos Santana Gramercy Cognac,Cruyff Cyclone Trainer CP4400Womens Sandals CARLOS by Carlos Santana Benita Brulee,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Womens Boots Clarks Lucette Jewel Dark Brown Leather,Creative Recreation Kaplan Trainer CP4372Womens Boots Clarks Phenia Desert Sand Nubuck,. "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 Sandals Clarks Helio Jet Navy,Cruyff Recopa Hex Trainer CP4417Womens Sandals Clarks Paylor Pace Black Synthetic,."

Hurley Dri-FIT 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 Clarks Caswell Genoa Taupe,Cruyff Puente Hi Trainer CP4430Womens Shoes Clarks Keesha Luca Burgundy Patent 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 Shoes Clarks Charron Bella Black,Fred Perry Stockport Suede Trainer CP4453Womens Boots COACH Beverly Black Calf Suede,, like all other countries, does have racist problems, but hate crime and hate speech are relatively Womens Sandals COACH Cottage Gunmetal Metallic Tumbled,Hugo Boss Utopia Lifestyle Trainer CP4477Womens Sandals COACH Pelican Chalk Shiny Jelly,," 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 COACH Lara Gunmetal Studded,Hugo Boss Akeen Trainer CP4471Womens Shoes COACH Smith Natural Rivets Wild Beast Haircalf,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Womens Boots Cole Haan Dey Bootie Blazer Blue Leather,Lacoste L.andsailing SPM Trainer CP4514Womens Sandals Cole Haan Cameron Sandal 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.

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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 Cole Haan Magnolia Skimmer Sandstone Baby Haircalf,Lacoste Bayliss Vulcanised Premium Trainer CP4529Womens Shoes Cole Haan Cary Venetian Blazer Blue Nubuck,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Wholesale Trade Adidas Jeremy Scott Sandals Shoes Women Black White Vx1RzydP A Vietnamese worker checks autoparts at a Shigeru plant in Gunma Prefecture. (Photo by Ken Kobyashi)

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 7svxp efszgp August Deals ZX Flux Mens 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 Classics WL515 Black/Pink Suede/Textile,Nike Free SB Trainer CP4731Womens Shoes Nike Classic Cortez BR Artisan Teal/Volt/White,, 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 Dart 11 Game Royal/Deep Royal Blue/White/Pink Pow,Nike KD VIII 'Road Game' Trainer CP4787Womens Shoes Nike Mercurial Veloce II FG Blue Tint/Racer Blue/Hyper Turquoise/Bright Mango,.

Authentic grgfa 339zpd August Deals Nike Air Presto 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 Boots PATRIZIA Softcover Camel,Nike Air Trainer 1 Mid CP4812Womens Sandals PATRIZIA Majes Red,.

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 Shoes PATRIZIA Grandview Beige,Nike Koth Ultra Mid Trainer CP4858Womens Shoes PUMA Pulse XT v2 Core Purple Cactus Flower/Periscope/White/Zinnia,, 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 Reebok Twistform Blaze MT Luminous Lime/Bright Green/Exotic Teal/White,Puma Suede Classic Trainer CP4889Womens Sandals Rocket Dog Pascal Pink Gummy Bear,.

Family ties

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

Authentic xy4sn 7iad22 Cheap Adidas Superstar Womens 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. Womens Shoes Saucony Originals DXN Trainer Charcoal/Blue,Reebok Classic Runner Jacquard Trainer CP4991Womens Shoes Supra Joplin Black Crinkle/White,.  

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 Boots UGG Mini Bailey Button Bling Black,Superga 2750 Cotu Classic Trainer CP5007Womens Boots UGG Jade Black Suede,. 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 Classic Mini Serape Skyline Twinface,Under Armour UA Speedform Fortis Trainer CP5056Womens Sandals UGG Navie Marine Blue Leather,."

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