One prominent newspaper called it "shocking." Another said the Americans were "overbearing." A Japanese official called it "interference" in Japan's domestic affairs. And in some quarters, it was being viewed as comparable to the "Nixon shocks" that rattled Japan in the early 1970s.
This was the visible side of the Japanese reaction to a visit by a U.S. trade delegation that left here Monday after three days of intense talks on the international trade crisis and what Japan ought to do about it. U.S. demands and the blunt language in which they were phrased left the Japanese indignant.
"The behavior of the U.S. negotiators . . . was shocking because they tried to intimidate and almost dictate terms to this country," said an editorial in the influential Yomiuri Dhimbun.
"Many Japanese could hardly believe that this was the attitude of a supposedly friendly nation and ally. The negotiators attempted to bring Japan to its heels and not win concessions."
As viewed through Japanese eyes, all that the Americans were asking was that Japan stop doing those things which have made it affluent in the past two decades - and to ditch a few of its free enterprise institutions in the process. It did not help that the demands came from a relatively low level U.S. mission headed by a young and - to the Japanese - inexperienced lawyer from the office of the U.S. special trade representative.
What the STR counsel, Richard Rivers, asked was that Japan announce promptly how and when it will get rid of its large trade surplus, that Japan permanently revise its trading patterns to bring in more imports, and that Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda stimulate the country's economy so that other nations can find bigger markets here.
None of these was a totally new idea, but the Fukuda government and the press were taken aback at having them presented in what they considered an abrasive manner.
One Japanese official said the government had anticipated a series of "low-key" discussions designed primarily to pave the way for more decisive medtings when Robert Strauss, the special trade representative, comes to call in December. More charitable than other officials, he said he thought the confrontation which developed was perhaps the result of "inexperience."
Others disagreed. One Japanese diplomat said he assumed the Rivers mission was intended primarily for domestic consumption - an attempt by the Carter administration to ward off rising protectionist pressures at home by showing a willingness to "get tough" with Japan.
Another thought the United States merely wanted to shift attention from its own economic sluggishness, and that theme was echoed in the press. "The United States has become so overbearing that we suspect it hopes, through attacking Japan, to soften criticisms by other countries of the United States, " declared an editorial in the Ashahi Shimbun.
In the end, Japan made no commitments. Its response was a promise to study seven ways of increasing imports, most of which had been made public before the Rivers mission came. Among them were increasing imports of oil and uranium and the reduction of tariffs on a number of other items.
At the very end of the trade talks, U.S. officials insisted that they had not presented Japan with "demands," merely with suggestions, and denied they had come in a mood a confrontation. They had only wanted to acquaint officials here with the seriousness of Protectist feelings in the United States and the rest of the world, they said.
That isn't how the Japanese read it. They took the substance of the talks as an imperious ultimatum to rearrange their economy and to jettison their successful ways of doing business, all by government flat. The Ashahi Shimbun posed the Japanese bewilderment and irritation this way: "Does the U.S. believe Japan is a totalitarian state which can restructure its foreign trade and economy on short notice by a government order?"