Men Jordan CP3.IX'Basketball Shoes' Black/Laser Orange/Blue Lagoon/Bright Concord Model UK0714 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, Mens Nike Dunk SB Low Shoes "Los Angeles Lakers" Yellow Z9199,Men Jordan Flight Runner 2'Training Shoes' Black/Infrared 23/Laser Orange Model UK0738,Nike Air Force 1 Mid Mens Trainers Green White Z9306,, 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. Nike Air Max 1 Essential Mens Trainers Black Grey Team Orange Z9363,Men Jordan Ol'School'Basketball Shoes' Gym Red/Black Model UK0749,Nike Air Max 1 Mid FB Camo Black Cool Grey Ivory Z9422,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Mens Nike Air Max 90 Premium Tape Runinng Shoes Gamma Green Black Spruce Mine Grey Z9520,Men Jordan AJ 1 High'Basketball Shoes' Cool Grey/White/Black/White Model UK0794,Nike Air Max 90 Essential Mens Trainers Leather Dark Grey Anthracite Hyper Red Z9561,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

B&C 18NW100 8ohm 18 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, Nike Air Max 90 Jacquard Mens Laser Crimson Dark Grey Z9631,Men Jordan V.5 Grown Low'Basketball Shoes' Black/White Model UK0786,Nike Air Max Lunar90 C3.0 Mens Light Grey Red Z9724,, 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, Asics Tiger / Curreo-Shoes / Indian Ink/White,Men Jordan Rising High'Basketball Shoes' Cool Grey/White/Wolf Grey/Infrared 23 Model UK0854,Betsy / BETSY Derby Shoes / Tan,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Betsy / Slingback Peeptoe Heels / White,Men Jordan AJ 1 Low'Basketball Shoes' Black/Black/Black Model UK0817,Body Glove / Kim 2 Back To School Plimsolls / Black,. "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. "Call It Spring / Jerenawet Loafers / Gold,Men Jordan AJ 1 Low'Basketball Shoes' Black/Gym Red/Cool Grey Model UK0825,Clarks / Dargo Limit Mixed Material Brogues / Green Combi Leather,."

RECONE KIT Celestion G12-65 8ohm 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.Converse / Chuck Taylor All Star Canvas Ox Unisex Sneakers / White/Red/Navy,Men Jordan Air Spike Forty PE'Basketball Shoes' Total Orange/Game Royal/White Model UK0904,Crystal Korea Fashion / Crystal Korea Fashion Slip Ons / Light Silver,. 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.

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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

Guess / Reice Sandals / Black,Men Mizuno 9-Spike Advanced Classic 7'Baseball Shoes' Black/Royal Model UK0937,Louis Cuppers / Casual Slip Ons / Blue,, and 60% are 65 or older. Most of their children have left for the city in search of better-paying office work.

Maxstar / C2 30 7 Holes Denim All White Platform High Top Sneakers / Navy,Men Mizuno Wave Lightning Z'Volleyball Shoes' Black/Silver Model UK1002,Adidas Originals Eqt Support Rf 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.

18 Sound ND1030 1 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, Adidas Originals Tubular Runner Black,Men Mizuno Wave Rider 18'Running Shoes' Alloy/Black/Electric Blue Lemonade Model UK1042,Adidas Originals Stan Smith W Pink,, where the temperature can reach 40 C in summer.

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Eminence PSD2002S-8 1 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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PAIR PACK (x2) Eminence DELTA 15LF 4ohm 15 Internet company Rakuten, based in Tokyo, has been actively recruiting foreign talent. (Photo by Yasunori Okamura)

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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.

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PAIR PACK Eminence Impero 12A 12 inch 1100W 8 Ohm Loudspeaker 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. Nike Nike Free 4.0 Men Sports Shoes Blue Grey 295446,Men Nike Air Max NM'Basketball Shoes' White/Pure Platinum/White Model UK1513,Adidas Men Cushioned Running Shoes Blue 412698,.

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. Adidas Men Trainers Brown 646981,Men Nike Air Max 90'Running Shoes' Dove Grey/Blue Model UK1574,Nike Nike Air Penny Men Shoes Red Varsity Black 580651,, 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," Lloyd Men Flat Shoes Brown 222552,Men Nike Fingertrap Max Free'Training Shoes' Wolf Grey/Black/Dk Grey/White Model UK1612,Nike Air Max 2014 Men Shoes Sky Blue Orange 168527,.

Family ties

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

4 x Celestion Rocket 50 Guitar Speakers 12 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, House Of Hounds Men Slip-Ons Black 623553,Men Nike Magista Opus FG'Soccer Shoes' Turquoise Blue/Black/Turquoise Blue Model UK1685,Lacoste Men Slip-Ons Black 376580,, 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. Boys Slippers Fashion Color 752368,Men Nike Zoom Rival XC'Track & Field Shoes' Black/White/Volt Model UK1715,Authentic Shop Adidas ACE Tango 17+ Purecontrol Tf Soccer Boots Blue Black J10r6990,.  

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, Fashion Online Shop Adidas Tf Soccer Boots Adidas X 15.3 Solar Pink Black A41s7076,Men Nike Zoom Hyperquickness 2015'Basketball Shoes' Orange Glaze/Metallic Silver/Bright Citrus Model,Browse & Buy Online Adidas Superstar 80S Supercolor Men Casual Sneakers All Red B52d6122,. 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," The Latest Classic Nike Air Force 1 Low Cmft Lux Men Shoes Fluorescent Green D83j1973,Men Nike Mercurial Victory V FG'Soccer Shoes' Squadron Blue/Squadron Blue/Black/Volt Model UK1861,New Nike Dunk Hellboy High-Tops Men Casual Shoes Red Black I99o9343,."

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