Shinichiro Tsukada says his small plastering company in Tokyo wouldn't survive without the 22 Chinese and Vietnamese workers who make up half his payroll.

"They're treasures, real treasures," he said. "Workers are disappearing as our population ages. Buildings cannot be built because there aren't enough workers. ... We have no choice but to allow them into the country."

Across Japan, hotels, farms and construction sites are feeling an intensifying labor crunch as the worker pool shrinks and demand rises ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.