SETTSU, Osaka Prefecture--Plans to construct a training facility for foreign interns have triggered an uproar in a residential district of this city where many of the district's 1,500 households have lived for generations.

Banners erected in front of homes since last fall, when the project was unveiled, demonstrate an emphatic "No" to the move that many fear could negatively transform the district.

“No! Absolutely No! to the destruction of our living environment,” reads one banner, while another says in a somewhat hysterical tone, "Protect the safety and security of our children.”

The project is the brainchild of a management organization that arranges for foreign technical trainees to work in Japan. The facility is planned to accommodate up to 60 trainees so they can learn the rudiments of Japanese language and become familiar with the country's culture and customs during the first month following their arrival.

In briefing sessions held six times since last fall, residents voiced alarm about sharing their neighborhood with a large number of foreign nationals. One resident even expressed unfounded fears that foreign trainees could end up working illegally and commit crimes.

Although the government drastically altered laws to work in Japan this April to fill a chronic labor shortage, it does not mean that communities where an influx of arrivals is expected are ready for the change.

Nearly 10,000 residents of Settsu and nearby areas signed a petition to oppose construction of the training facility. The fate of the project now hangs in the balance as opponents are refusing to budge.

But not all residents in the community are against the move.

A 67-year-old man who headed the neighborhood community association in the district until April and did not sign the petition said, “As far as people are coming from overseas (to work), some communities must accept them.”

He said issues had arisen in the past that sharply divided residents, but each time a solution was found by holding repeated discussions, rather than turning to a vote as a last resort.

But in this case, opinion remains split and the divide is apparently too wide to close.

The man said he had heard opponents expressing a vague sense of anxiety about the arrival of foreign technical trainees, such as “I cannot communicate with trainees” and “I am afraid of them.”

He thought residents needed to initiate discussions to determine why some people felt that way in the hope of removing such fears.

But his attempt went nowhere as opponents of the project remain adamant.

Some media outlets covering the opposition campaign have reported on it in a negative tone.

As a result, opponents are now citing the location of the facility and the way the management organization has tried to proceed with the project, rather than highlight the non-Japanese element.

“Why is it necessary to build a facility allowing access to an unspecified large number of people in the middle of a residential area?” a 63-year-old male resident asked.

Angelo Ishi, a professor of sociology at Musashi University in Tokyo who has researched many communities with large populations of foreign nationals of Japanese ancestry in Japan, said Japanese have tended over the years to regard foreign workers as “those causing trouble” since numbers have sharply increased.

Ishi, a third generation Japanese-Brazilian, arrived in Japan as a student in 1990.

At that time, when Japan was still experiencing an asset-inflated economic boom, second and third generation people of Japanese ancestry were allowed to work in Japan under a visa status with no employment restrictions.

That led to a sharp increase in the number of such workers, many of them in the manufacturing sector.

Some local governments and communities that assimilated a large foreign presence took a range of measures to prepare, but even so the path was bumpy.

In many cases, Japanese took umbrage at an initial lack of understanding on the part of some foreign residents on issues such as when and how to take out garbage and differences in the way they conduct their lives in their host community, he said.

Ishi, 51, noted that he had repeatedly been denied a contract to rent an apartment simply because he is not Japanese.

After the global downtown triggered by the collapse of Lehman Brothers in fall 2008, many foreign workers of Japanese descent lost their jobs and had problems making ends meet.

The central government covered airfare and other expenses for them to return to their home countries on the condition that they stay away from Japan for a certain period.

The treatment of those workers as an employment adjustment valve drew fire, but it did not lead to a broader debate about the issue of foreign workers being members of Japanese society, Ishi said.

“Most of foreign residents in Japan have adopted a low profile and lived like Japanese citizens,” he said. “Japanese people’s sense of caution will not be eased if they do not acknowledge that aspect.”