TOKYO -- A high-ranking member of Japan's ruling party who met U.S. Trade Representative Carla Hills at the Houston summit last week told other Japanese politicians on returning home that Hills, feared here as a tough Japan-basher, "is a woman after all."

Koko Sato, acting secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, also said that Hills was "charming and cute" but "getting on a bit in age," according to Kyodo News Service.

Sato, who accompanied Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu to Houston, made the comments at a private post-summit reception of officials at the prime minister's residence in Tokyo, Kyodo reported.

Sato said he spoke to Hills during a dinner hosted by President Bush and found her "easy to handle. She comes at you with logic, so an Oriental philosophy of life is sufficient to placate her."

"She only throws straight balls. She doesn't throw curve balls," he added.

Women who do not behave in a demure manner or who pursue careers are often portrayed as too masculine by Japanese men. One top-ranking Japanese politician several years ago, for instance, suggested that Socialist Party Chairwoman Takako Doi, an aggressive speaker and political campaigner, was not suited to be prime minister because she had never been married.