Photo/IllutrationBrazilian children participate in a town event in Oizumi, Gunma Prefecture on Nov. 8, 2017. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

OIZUMI, Gunma Prefecture--There's a certain irony about Mayor Toshiaki Murayama's alarm that the central government is moving too hastily to allow more skilled foreign laborers into Japan.

For one thing, Murayama has nothing against foreigners. He has thrown down the welcome mat for foreign residents, who now comprise almost one of five of this town's population.

What irks him about the Abe administration's move to create a new visa status is that many municipalities around the country are still grappling with ways to resolve social problems triggered by a rise in foreign newcomers linked to issues like poor language skills and lack of knowledge about local culture and customs.

Oizumi is highly regarded for the way it has created a harmonious living environment in the face of a huge influx of foreign residents, who numbered 7,538, or about 18 percent of the 41,757 population, as of Sept. 30.

More than 50 percent are Brazilians with Japanese heritage. Other nations represented include Peru, Bolivia, Nepal, the Philippines, Vietnam, China and Indonesia.

The high number of foreign residents is due to the proliferation of factories here churning out spare parts for automobiles and other industry.

The moves to revise the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Law has been widely criticized as a policy to bring in cheap labor to overcome a labor shortage.

“I wonder if the government isn't being rather sloppy by rushing to enact this new legislation without more thorough discussion," Murayama said at a news conference on Oct. 31.

The mayor went on to make clear that he has no objection to foreign people coming to Japan to work.

"It's a good thing," he said. "But I do think that there ought to be more discussion as many municipalities have come up against all sorts of problems when welcoming foreign workers into their communities."

Murayama cited instances of communities being targeted for negative criticism on social networking sites and a tendency to discriminate against people of other nationalities.

“I often presented my opinions to the government," he said. "I think the government is acting recklessly and dangerously by rushing in revisions of the law without resolving problems that have already arisen with the rise of more foreign workers. The burden on municipalities will only increase."

Oizumi took a number of initiatives to assimilate foreign residents into the community. For example, it set up 14 classrooms at the town's seven elementary and junior high schools for non-Japanese children to learn Japanese.

It also budgeted 56 million yen ($500,000) for fiscal 2018 to fund programs to maintain harmony in the community.

Of that figure, 30 million yen was set aside to pay the salaries of 11 teachers who assist those students as translators.