I live in Ebisu, a Tokyo neighborhood one subway stop away from the heart of expat life in the city, Hiroo, and two subway stops away from the expat and tourist party mecca of Tokyo, Roppongi. While Hiroo is filled with winding roads, intimate restaurants, cafes, embassies and respectful gaijin (Japanese for foreigners), Roppongi is filled with busy streets, crowded sidewalks, cavernous restaurants, hostess clubs, foreigner-friendly bars and rowdy gaijin.

When my partner and I first arrived in Japan over three years ago, we wanted an apartment close to Hiroo, but far enough away so that it wasn’t too familiar. Why move to the other side of the planet just to be near a bunch of other foreigners?

Life among our Japanese neighbors has been mostly enjoyable, sometimes trying but never dull. From the corner liquor store owner’s son who turns around to grab the vodka bottle whenever he sees me coming, to the middle-age grocery store clerk who still greets me with a smile whenever she sees me in line, the neighborhood is still everything I wanted it to be. In fact, we chose Ebisu primarily because it reminded us of our former New York neighborhood in that we were a short walk to restaurants, cafes, pubs, grocery stores, parks and the subway from our apartment.

The only real problem (if you can call it a problem) with Ebisu is that it’s a party neighborhood for locals. Whether it’s a weekday after work or a weekend night, Ebisu is packed with Japanese people. When the night becomes morning, the majority of them manage to catch the last train home at midnight. Unfortunately, more than a few are often stuck staying out all night if they miss the last train and their home is too far away to take a taxi–Tokyo taxis are notoriously expensive. Even on the ninth floor, my partner and I can sometimes hear these liquored-up stragglers laughing, crying and arguing at all hours of the early morning. I love alcohol. It’s the great leveler. It can turn the normally tame and stoic Japanese into wild and emotional Latinos.

I guess it was only a matter of time before foreigners realized the benefits of living in Ebisu. In the past year, the rapid gaijinification of the neighborhood has revealed itself in a very obvious way: white people. I see white people, lots of them, everyday, everywhere. They’re walking to the train station in the morning, playing with their children in the park, having a drink after work at the pub, waiting in line at the grocery store, greeting me as I pass them on the sidewalk.

OK, they never greet me. It’s an unspoken rule that you don’t acknowledge other gaijin when walking down the street. I don’t know exactly why that is, but I do know that I like it that way. I especially like it that way now that there are an increasing number of them in the hood.

I don’t think any neighborhood in Tokyo, or Japan for that matter, could ever rival Hiroo or Roppongi in terms of gaijinification. But I do hope that in the next few years, long after I’ve left Tokyo for good, the vomit you sometimes see on a morning walk in Ebisu will still, mostly, be attributed to the locals and not the expats.

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