Nike Sportswear Men White/Gum Light Brown/White Model:315 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, Adidas ZX 750 Unisex Dark Blue White Shoes Model:A1229,Jordan Shoes Men White/Black/Gym Red Model:62,Adidas Porsche Unisex White Grey Blue Shoes Model:A581,.

"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, Adidas Porsche Unisex Dark Grey Blue Shoes Model:A634,Jordan Shoes Men Dark Grey/ Grey/White Model:945,Adidas Predator Unisex Black Yellow Silver Shoes Model:A668,, 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. Adidas Spezial Unisex Dark Red Red Shoes Model:A764,Nike Running Men Sequoia/Electric Green/Radiant Emerald/ White Model:949,Adidas Stan Smith Unisex Black Yellow Shoes Model:A860,. Like other industries in a rapidly aging Japan, the construction business is desperate for labor. Adidas Supernova Unisex Black White Blue Shoes Model:A922,Jordan Shoes Men Black Model:53,Adidas Supernova Unisex Red Grey Shoes Model:A936,. As baby boomers retire, the labor shortage -- in construction and in the wider economy -- is bound to become more acute.

CHAUSSETTES NOIR FILA OCCASION Port 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, Adidas Superstar 2 Unisex Skate Blue Creme Shoes Model:A1104,Nike Running Men Bright Crimson/Ghost Green/Black Model:145,Adidas Superstar Unisex White Black Shoes Model:A988,, 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, Nike Air Max 90 Children Grey,Nike Basketball Men Insignia Blue/Blue Lagoon/Bright Citrus/Metallic Silver Model:897,Nike Air Max Zero Infant Black,.

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Immigration remains a politically charged issue in Japan, Nike Air Max Zero Junior Black,Nike Running Men Silver/White/Black Model:749,Nike Presto BR Junior Grey,. "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. "Design Adidas Performance Calo 5 - Flip Flops - Core Black/Vista Grey K51w9507,Nike Sportswear Men Red/White Model:882,Price Down Adidas Originals Superstar - Trainers - White/Core Black N49u9326,."

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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.High Cut Adidas Originals Courtvantage - Trainers - White/Core Black H71j4636,Nike Basketball Men Dark Grey/- Grey-Black Model:58,Hot Adidas Performance Solar Rnr - Cushioned Running Shoes - Collegiate Navy/Silver Metallic/Pink C5,. 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

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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.

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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, Beautifu Reebok Classic Gl 6000 - Trainers - Grey/Chalk/Black L43j2634,Nike Sportswear Men White/White Model:746,Get Cheap Timberland Cobleton - Lace-Ups - Oakwood P7i4552,, 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, Nike Air Max 90 HYP FRM Mens White Red Sneakers 3127208,Nike Training Men Apple Green/White/Yellow Model:301,Nike Air Max LTD 2 Mens White Gray Sneakers 3127340,.

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Mikitani's revelation came during a lunch session with Indian engineers. Nike Air Max 1 Unisex Orange Black Sneakers 3127452,Nike Football Men Navy/Metallic Gold/White Model:598,Nike Air Max 90 PRM EM Unisex Blue Gray Casual Shoes 3127522,.

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. Nike Air Presto Anti Fur Mens Sneakers Royal Blue White 3127898,Jordan Shoes Men White/Black-Gym Red Model:434,Nike Lunar Hyperdunk X 2012 James Fluorescent Green Basketball Shoes 3128077,, 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," Nike Kobe 8 System Playoff Black/Gold Basketball Shoes 3128200,Jordan Shoes Men Black/Black/Metallic Silver Model:18,Nike Lebron X Low Basketball Shoes RedGreyOrange 3128294,.

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 Free 3.0 V2 Mens Running Shoe Suede Black Golden 3128978,Nike Running Men Black/White/Metallic Silver Model:775,Nike Free 4.0 V3 Mens Running Shoe Suede Blue White 3129070,.  

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, Nike Roshe Run Suede Mens Running Shoes Navy Grey yellow 3129227,Nike Running Men Grey/White/Black Model:716,Nike Lunar 5.5 Spider LT +2 Green Mens Sneakers 3129589,. 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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