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Dinner parties and cultural exchange critical to establishing friendship between nations

Diplomacy does not just take place between governments. It is also important to deepen friendships with the general public through cultural exchange and various other interactions. Ambassadors and diplomats frequently attend talks and parties, making the most of every occasion to exchange views with local political and business leaders. A nation’s values, connections, and cultural presence are referred to together as “soft power.” Although the short-term effects may be intangible, it is of increasing importance.


An ambassador’s main venue for diplomacy is the ambassadorial residence, where they host dinners for politicians, business leaders, local press representatives, and intellectuals. “Breaking bread is the best way to exchange information and cultivate relationships,” says one former ambassador.


At the South Korean Ambassador’s residence, guests can dine overlooking the pond in its large Japanese garden. The property is enclosed by walls replicating the former royal palace in Seoul and showcases a fusion of traditional Japanese and Korean styles. A large mural made of Lego blocks has become popular among invited guests as a backdrop for photos.


The French Ambassador’s residence also has an authentic Japanese garden. Former Ambassador Thierry Dana, who showed great interest in Japanese culture, had it built. Demonstrating love and respect for the host nation’s culture helps to deepen ties. Every year, the U.S. Ambassador hosts a garden party at the official residence to celebrate Independence Day with many invited guests.


Embassies’ public affairs offices are responsible for managing cultural exchange programs and communication with the general public, and many events are held for the public at large. This office is critical in people-to-people diplomacy which transforms cultural exchange into mutual understanding.


Last November, the U.S. Embassy held educational events in Tokyo and Osaka on the U.S. presidential election, and a mock election was held for the 2008 presidential race. The aim both years was to broaden understanding of American politics by expanding awareness of its election system, which is unfamiliar to most Japanese.


The U.S. Embassy hosts monthly events catering to Japanese students looking to study in the U.S., providing advice on English learning and on selecting a school for studying abroad.


Beyond the embassy, U.S. military bases in Japan, such as Yokota and Yokosuka, also hold English language classes and offer tours of fighter aircrafts and destroyer ships. “Many locals are vocal about the bases being a nuisance. Our outreach efforts are a form of U.S. diplomacy designed to encourage local residents to feel affinity with us,” explains one foreign affairs official.


Embassy-backed national festivals are held in Yoyogi Park virtually every week. Food stalls and souvenir stands line the park promenades, and live performances are held on the main stage. The library adjacent to the Canadian Embassy is open to the public.


The Danish Embassy offers Danish cooking classes in its on-property kitchen and dining facilities, while the Omani Embassy provides Muslim-friendly Halal cooking classes.


Many embassies are leveraging the Internet and social networking services (SNS) to promote diplomacy. Last December, a video of the “koi dance” routine featuring then U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy in a Santa Claus outfit went viral. Based on the former ambassador’s idea, the U.S. Embassy’s Public Affairs Section planned the filming and posted the video on a video-sharing site. The video was viewed over one million times a day.


The French Embassy recently hired a staff member to manage its SNS presence. According to last fiscal year’s statistics from a company called Twiplomacy that tracks global Twitter activity, the embassy that had the most likes and retweets was Embassy of Finland in Tokyo, followed by the French Embassy in Japan. Ranked in third place was the Embassy of Sweden based in the U.S.


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