At Mother’s Garden, the nursing home in Kashiwa, where Christmas decorations blanketed the halls, Mr. Goto, the director, said he worried about cultural clashes between Japanese and incoming foreign workers.
“I think it might be difficult for foreigners to understand” Japan’s spirit, he said.
But Kanako Matsuo, the nursing home’s facilities director, said the handful of workers from Taiwan, the Philippines and Vietnam who already work there “have the same hearts” as their Japanese colleagues.
“I don’t feel any gap in working with them,” Ms. Matsuo said.
At lunchtime on Thursday, Ayuko Iwai, 29, a Japanese caregiver, spooned mashed chicken and soft-boiled rice into a resident’s mouth. A colleague was helping someone else, but five other residents sat listlessly in wheelchairs before a television. Soon it would be time for the colleague’s break, and Ms. Iwai would be left to supervise 10 residents on her own.
“If we had more staff we could care for each patient more individually,” said Ms. Iwai.
Some employers say foreigners may not want nursing home jobs. “If we don’t elevate the status of caregiving we won’t be able to recruit enough workers,” said Kaoru Sasaki, vice chairman of an association that represents 2,800 operators of group homes for elderly patients with dementia.
The job can be grueling. At Mother’s Garden, caregivers bathe residents, change diapers and help them get dressed. They clean bathrooms and kitchens and take care of a pet rabbit. The average monthly pay after three years on the job is 200,000 yen (about $1,775, which works out to roughly $11 an hour).