The first nursing care workers from Myanmar to participate in Japan's foreign trainee program arrived at a Hokkaido airport on Monday amid expectations that the Southeast Asian country will provide much-needed workers.
The training program for foreigners started in 1993 with the aim of transferring various skills to developing countries. But it has also helped supply workers to Japan as the country struggles with labor shortages amid an aging population and falling birthrate.
Japan opened up its nursing care sector to foreign trainees in November 2017.
The three workers from Myanmar, all women in their 20s, will spend three years gaining experience at Sapporo-based Sakura Community Service Co., according to an official at the firm's affiliate in Yangon.
They flew from Yangon and after a layover in Thailand arrived at New Chitose Airport, where heavy snow over the weekend had left roughly 2,000 people stranded.
"I chose Japan because I like Japanese culture. But I'm worried about the cold weather," Wut Yee Phyo told reporters on Sunday before boarding a plane in Yangon.
The 23-year-old, making her first trip abroad, also said she will try "not to make mistakes resulting from cultural differences between Myanmar and Japan."
Zin Zin Moe, 28, said she has no worries as she was trained thoroughly. "I wanted to be a caregiver and help the elderly because I didn't get the chance to look after my father (who died)," she said.
Hopes are growing that more foreign trainees may come to work in Japan's nursing care business from Myanmar, which is majority Buddhist, as some people there view the profession as a way of accruing good karma.
Meanwhile, skeptics say workers coming to Japan from Myanmar may have a difficult time adjusting given that the country has a life expectancy of 67 years compared to Japan's 84 years, and many have never cared for a person who cannot use the toilet by themselves, for example.
The first foreign trainees in the nursing care field were two Chinese women, who arrived in Japan in July last year. The two, both with caregiving experience in Dalian, were accepted at welfare facilities in Miyazaki prefecture, southwestern Japan.
As Japan continues to grapple with a severe labor shortage, the government has decided to introduce a new visa system from April that would broaden the entry of foreign workers, including blue-collar workers.
Japan has so far basically granted working visas only to people with professional knowledge and high skills such as doctors, lawyers and teachers. But many foreigners work under the technical intern status, and foreign students are also allowed to work part-time.