Make manga, not war.
That was the message on Monday when Japan's foreign minister awarded prizes in the country's first international contest for foreign artists who have helped spread the popular Japanese "manga" comic genre abroad.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso, an avid manga fan, presented Hong Kong's Lee Chi Ching with a trophy for first place.
"I strongly hope that through the works of today's winners, manga will serve as a bridge to the world," Aso said at the ceremony, held at a state guest house usually reserved for weighty diplomatic talks.
Lee, a veteran artist, was recognized for his work "Sun Zi's Tactics", a comic set at the end of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty and translated into many languages, including Japanese.
Asked what he thought of Aso's idea that Japanese manga and "anime" animations and could be the way to Asia's heart, Lee replied through an interpreter: "People who like the same things will never go to war or fight."
Japan's relations with Asian countries, including China and South Korea, have long been strained by disputes stemming from their bitter wartime past.
Lee also said the work for which he won the award had tried to convey the message that countries should never go to war.
Hailed as a "Nobel prize" for foreign comic artists, the award is the brainchild of Aso, who proposed the idea last year in a policy speech he gave in Tokyo's Akihabara district.
The area is the heart of Japan's "otaku", or nerd, subculture that cherishes the book-size comics running the gamut from fantasy and romance to sex and violence.
Lee and three runners-up from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia were awarded with a 10-day visit to Japan and chances to meet with Japanese artists and publishers.
The winners were chosen from 146 entries by a panel of renowned manga artists and former publishers.
Lee, who began reading comics when he was about 10 years old, said he had long been inspired by Japanese manga artists.
"I've been writing manga for many years and I am happy that my work has finally been recognized," he said.