From Pimp to Politician

One Chinese Man and His Japanese Dream

Walking through Kabukichō, a densely packed red-light district in Tokyo, one sometime spots 58-year-old Li Xiaomu, eager to point tourists to a good time. Born in the city of Changsha, Hunan province, Li moved to Tokyo in 1988 to study fashion design. To support himself, he found work as a cleaner in Kabukichō. When he realized that he could earn tips and commissions “just for pointing” tourists to places that “tickle their fancy,” Li became an annainin, or “tour guide.” Since then, his charm and his love of Kabukichō have made him a well-known figure in the district. He has written 21 books, mostly about Kabukichō; Kabukichō Annainin, a 2002 book about Li’s life as a tour guide, was adapted into a Japanese film in 2006.

In February 2015, Li became a Japanese citizen, which required him to renounce his Chinese citizenship. Known as Lee Komaki in Japanese, he knows that both Chinese and Japanese people see him as an outsider. Walking alone under the glow of Kabukichō’s brightly-colored advertisements, singing about China’s Xiang River, Li seems right at home and yet still a thousand miles away. This film follows Li as he campaigns for the April 2019 Shinjuku Assembly elections. Despite a loss in the same election in 2015, Li believes that this time he can win over those who balk at his unorthodox background and seedy occupation. Arrow Factory Video chronicles his campaign, in a short film directed by Guo Rongfei. Stephen Garrett