Sporting a pinstripe suit, a wiry figure hovers on the main street of Shinjuku Ward’s Kabukicho — Tokyo’s busiest and arguably seediest entertainment district.
Every night for 14 years, Lee Xiaomu has approached foreign visitors roaming the neon-glittering streets and offered to escort them to bars, restaurants, strip shows, night clubs, porn shops — whatever tickles their fancy.
“I am a Kabukicho guide,” said Lee, distinguishing himself from regular hawkers in the area.
Dealings with gangsters and police, rivalry for business territories, violence and crime serve as a backdrop for his book, “Kabukicho Annainin,” (“The Guide of Kabukicho”).
The 41-year-old, from Hunan Province, said the key to survival is to follow the local rules.
“There are rules of yakuza, rules of ‘catch’ (touters), and the rules of the girls,” he said.
These codes enable people in Japan to be considerate toward each other and prosper together — the elements he said he admires most about this country.
But as the foreign population of Kabukicho, mainly Chinese newcomers, grows, the order under the yakuza influence is often challenged, he said.
He has witnessed a yakuza assaulted by a group of Chinese. Lee himself was once bound and robbed by several Chinese men at his condominium, he said.
His nose has been crooked since being on the receiving end of a head-butt by a Kenyan, who was angered by Lee’s warning not to violate his territory.
But although new brands of crime and trouble threaten the traditional Kabukicho hierarchy, Lee believes, newcomers like himself are not solely to blame.
“Japanese society and rules have to change with the times,” he said, adding that some people simply cause trouble because they are ignorant of the rules of this traditionally closed pocket of society.
Lee also said he is concerned that ordinary Chinese students here often fall to the temptation of crime as they struggle with the huge gap in the value of money between the two countries and the difficult working environment for foreigners.
Lee himself has on occasion been invited to take part in crimes, being offered, for example, 300,000 yen to be a driver in a robbery.
“Japan is the nearest industrialized country for Chinese,” he said. “Before accusing all Chinese of being bad, Japan should think of establishing a system” so Chinese students and workers can have a minimum standards of living.
Lee began working at 13, touring China as a member of the elite official ballet of Hunan Province.
He arrived in Tokyo in 1988, attracted by what he felt was its high sense of fashion. He currently publishes the Overseas Chinese News biweekly newspaper and is the Tokyo correspondent for a leading Chinese fashion magazine.
But he said these jobs are more hobbies for him and that he has no plan to quit as a Kabukicho guide.
Lee said he likes the job because he can meet a variety of people, from the poor to famous movie stars and top foreign government officials.
Indeed, among his past escorts are a leader of an Eastern European country accompanied by a dozen bodyguards as well as members of an Arabian royal family, he said. “There is no such wonderful life as here,” he said with a smile.