Mark Leonard had a somewhat negative image of Japan before his arrival, thinking that people would be pessimistic over the prolonged economic downturn and that Tokyo would resemble a ghost town populated by listless youths.

But the perceptions of the 25-year-old foreign policy adviser to British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government changed when he arrived in Tokyo late last month and walked along Tokyo's upmarket Omotesando Street.

"The street was packed with young people enjoying themselves," said Leonard, who serves as director of the Foreign Policy Centre, a think tank launched by Blair in 1998.