Inside one of the many greenhouses lining the vast area of land under the autumn sky in Hokkaido is 22-year-old Truong Thi Kim Ngoc, a Vietnamese intern on the Japanese government's Technical Intern Training Program. Ngoc is picking cherry tomatoes. Pointing, she says in smooth Japanese, "The ones in this aisle are redder, aren't they?"
The Hill of Kawanishi Shizuo Farm group, based in the city of Shibetsu in the northernmost prefecture, employs a total of 20 Vietnamese nationals. Among the approximately 100 Japanese employees at the group, which includes a food processing plant, the average age is 58. Due to a shortage of young labor, Shizuo Farm President Yutaka Imai, 67, decided to open the group's doors to foreign interns in 2015.
"There's absolutely no way we can snag a Japanese worker right out of school," Imai said. "Even if they join us after they've been out in the world for a bit, they only stay for a few years and move on."