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Japan tries schoolgirl diplomacy for size

EVER seen an ambassador dressed in pastel frills? How about a diplomatic envoy in a mini-skirted school uniform?

In a bid to raise its international profile, Tokyo has appointed three young women as cultural envoys because they represent Japan's long-running craze for all things cute.

Inspired by the characters in Japan's distinctive "anime" animated films and "manga" cartoon books, one of the new ambassadors dresses as a schoolgirl, another as a Victorian doll in voluminous frilly skirts.

The third of the women, presented at a news conference yesterday, was a singer dressed in a polka dot shirt with a bunny print, a look that has made her a fashion leader in Tokyo teens' favorite haunt, Harajuku.

Japan wants to exploit the popularity of the "kawaii" (cute) culture, which has influenced young people in Asia and Europe.

"It's all about mutual understanding," said Tsutomu Nakagawa, the head of the cultural affairs division at the Foreign Ministry. "We want people abroad to know these kind of people exist in Japan and to feel close to them."

Japan has been making concerted efforts to boost its "soft power." "You get people to love your culture and use that as a way of gaining power around the world," said Phil Deans, professor of international relations at Temple University's Tokyo campus. "America has a lot of soft power, because people like American culture."

The ambassadors are schedule to speak at Japan Expo to be held in Paris this July.


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