Farm, hotel sectors help each other during pandemic
Japan Today -- Apr 30
Disruption to the inbound flow of foreign trainees caused by the coronavirus pandemic has created labor shortages in Japan's agricultural sector and led farmers to turn to workers in the tourism industry as a stop-gap measure.

Motoyoshi Hashizume was stunned when he heard the news this month that Japan would ban the entry of foreigners from more than 70 countries and regions in a bid to contain the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus.

The executive director at Tsumagoi Cabbage Promotion Business Cooperative in Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, said about 250 cabbage farmers in the village had planned to hire a total of 320 foreign trainees to plant young cabbages starting late April and harvest them in fall.

Japan has been accepting foreign trainees in the agricultural, fisheries and manufacturing sectors since 1993 under a program to transfer technologies and knowledge to developing countries, but some critics fear that the internship program could be used as a cover for companies to import cheap labor.

As of the end of 2018, about 330,000 foreign trainees were in Japan, according to the Organization for Technical Intern Training.

In the case of Tsumagoi, one of the major cabbage production areas in the country, 220 workers from China, Indonesia and Myanmar were unable to enter Japan, leaving the village in a difficult position.

Hotels in hot spring resorts in and around the village, meanwhile, have suffered many cancellations of reservations since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and some other populous prefectures, asking people to avoid nonessential outings and some businesses to shut.

The declaration was later expanded to cover all the nation's 47 prefectures.

The obvious solution for Hashizume's cabbage cooperative was to hire people from the dormant tourism industry to help out its member farmers.

"Some 20 hotel workers in and around the village have consulted us and had interviews with farmers on their working conditions," said Hashizume, adding that three have agreed to start working from May.

He said the cabbage cooperative has received an increasing number of inquiries on the program not only from Gunma but also from other prefectures. Those who come from outside Gunma will be required to quarantine themselves for two weeks.

News source: Japan Today
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