Foreign workers, investors in Japan span economic and social spectrum


In April this year Japan opened its gates to foreign workers en masse. It’s a dramatic about-face for a nation long jealous of its cultural exclusivity. The exclusivity is no longer affordable. Aging rapidly, Japan needs workers. With so few children being born, where will they come from, if not overseas?

They’re already here, in record numbers steadily growing: 1.46 million as of 2018, says the labor ministry – a 14 percent rise over the year before. They span the economic and social spectrum. Entrepreneurs seek and find opportunities. Some blue collar workers tell tales of exploitation bordering on slavery. Spa! (Oct 29) gives us an overview.

Chinese investors in Japan long favored new urban “tower mansions” – high-rise high-end apartment buildings. It recalled Japan’s buy-up of American real estate in the 1980s. Both splurges caused anxiety in the host countries.

Rising Japanese prices and a depreciating Chinese currency caused a shift downscale. Over the past two years the focus has been away from high-rises towards more modest properties – some of them describable as positively run-down, with many vacant rooms and owners often too old to be interested in refurbishing. Enter the Chinese, who are younger and have ready cash – 80 million yen, let’s say, for purchase, plus another 30 million for renovation. Some investors go oven farther down-market than that, buying up decrepit properties for 15 million yen, putting 7 million into them and renting them out cheap, figuring on an 8 percent profit over time. This is good news for foreign workers on a tight budget, who often find Japanese landlords unwilling to rent to them.

Prominent in Japan’s used car business over the past five decades have been immigrants from Pakistan. Spa! says it all began in the 1970s with one Pakistani entrepreneur buying four Japanese used cars for resale in the homeland. Other Pakistanis followed, and it burgeoned from there, centered largely in Kawaguchi, Saitama Prefecture. With Pakistan’s import regulations tightening lately, dealers are looking elsewhere – to Africa, for instance: Tanzania, Zambia, Congo, Uganda and Kenya among others. Used buses are in particular demand – so much so that Japanese are getting in on the action. Used Japanese vehicles have an excellent reputation worldwide – they’re said to be like new, thanks to the regular mandatory inspections all vehicles are put through.  

How inviting the field is we gather from the story of Akhtar Naheed, CEO of Kawaguchi-based LATIF International – “a leading exporter,” says its website, “of used vehicles (including) sports cars, dumps and trucks, buses, construction and agricultural machinery…” Naheed came to Japan in 2003 as an MBA student at Ritsumeikan Asia-Pacific University. Graduating, he went into management consulting, earning 700,000 yen a month – which he threw over, the car business seeming, and proving, the better, if less safe, bet.

That there’s money to be made in Japan, no one doubts. That there are skills to be acquired is widely believed, which is why the government-affiliated Technical Intern Training Program has drawn so many trainees, mostly from Asia, since its inception in 1993. Early on it acquired a reputation it never lost – as a cover for cheap labor under conditions scarcely distinguishable from slavery.

One story is very much like another, all alleging abusive treatment. “I worked all day every day for 300 yen an hour until finally my body broke down,” says a Chinese factory worker in her 30s. “I got burned while working,” says a Vietnamese cleaning plant employee in his 20s; “they said it was a barbeque accident. It was never treated properly.” He shows Spa! the scar.

Earlier this year the British multinational investment bank HSBC Holdings conducted a survey ranking countries in terms of popularity with foreign workers. Switzerland was first, Singapore second, Canada third, Vietnam 10th (which is interesting in view of how many Vietnamese come to Japan to work), the U.S. 23rd, China 26th, Japan 32nd. Something will have to change, if Japan hopes to fill its native labor shortage with foreigners.

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Japan has no future without foreign immigration. The key to survival is a pluralistic society. It needs blue-collar and white-collar immigrants to survive. It will revive it’s agrarian and industrial sectors while providing A revenue base for It’s aging society. Education and social interaction will overcome the nationalist and racists Elements.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

seeing allot more foreigners in Japan but the jobs they are doing, seems about the same, with hard, inpenetrable ceilings in place, meaning you will never be truly assimilated or accepted. I recently saw a complete crew of Chinese, one even driving an excavator, on the road, some progress but the leader was of course Japanese. Small changes, but still lots needs to be done before I would ever recommend Japan. The people to ask are the Vietnamese, Chinese, Indonesian etc doing the jobs, not the disconnected eikaiwa or embassy staff or base worker people.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

The yen is rather cheap now and many foreign workers send money home like me. If the yen firms up expect working in Japan to be more popular.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Ha, accepted in Japan...what a joke.

Im Japanese, born and raised, but look Caucasian. It’s simply not ever going to happen in this time.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

@thepersoniamnow: I basically agree with you and also count your blessings in that you should be able to do much better with the ladies than the locals. "Halfies" are very popular according to my son's friends.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Japan is very far behind in hiring even white collars executives or treating good hard-working honest people correctly. The Japanese have to learn to communicate correctly with normal foreign human beings. We are the same, we have 2 ears a pair of eyes and everything like U. Treat us fairly and we will treat u fairly.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

In April this year Japan opened its gates to foreign workers en masse.

No, it didn't. It let in a few more to be used and exploited.

10 ( +10 / -0 )


If getting with ladies was the only good thing in life then ok.

But first off isn’t it better to be good looking rather than a half?

I also always tell girls I’m Japanese, I’m sure it helps.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan 'opened the gates' to tens of thousands and 600 turned up LOL like raising the birth rate, mass immigration policy is just wishful thinking...

2 ( +2 / -0 )

First, Japan have to have it's laws in English, then its mind and hearts in truly white collarsworkers well-beings then maybe Japan can be saved. Just consider this way, why should anyone wants to help japan ???at the scarifies of their well-being if the laws and the minds of japanese are in question ??? of intergrity, fairness & honesty.

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Japan won’t be able to attract the workers it needs.

When one Vietnamese or Chinese dies through negligence or is mistreated then millions of their countrymen and women get to hear of it-this is the era of instant communication after all!

The Japanese had better hope and pray that they are able to turn things around by expanding living space via drones or developing robots for the 3k jobs otherwise the increasing taxes will continue to smother the country...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

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