Japanese legislators visiting Capitol Hill last week have told Japanese government officials they must do something to encourage their automakers to restrict exports of their cars to the United States, congressional sources said yesterday.

Japanese Ambassador Yoshio Okawara, visiting Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kans.) yesterday, said the Diet members suggested something must be done to restrict exports. A spokesman for the Japanese Embassy said the delegation told Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki that "some sort of cooperation is necessary to maintain friendly U.S.-Japan relations," but that the legislators didn't mention any specific import limits "or anything like that."

The Japanese government on Tuesday reportedly asked its auto industry to reduce exports to the United States voluntarily by 7 percent to a level of 1.7 million this year. The cutback, which could be as little as 120,000 or as much as 200,000, depending on how it is calculated, falls short of the 300,000-car reduction Congress is seeking or the 700,000-car cutback sought by the American auto industry.

Meanwhile, the American automakers and the United Auto Workers union reacted sharply to suggestions from the Japanese that the U.S. industry and its employes make further economic sacrifices to aid its own recovery -- concessions that may be required to win Japan's cooperation, according to Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige.

Ford Motor Co. Chairman Philip Caldwell said the industry has already made painful sacrifices and it will continue to restrain prices if the Japanese limit their exports here. Caldwell also restated his plea to the United Auto Workers to hold down wage and benefit demands.

In a letter to Baldrige, Caldwell said Ford has cut back hard on its overhead, reducing annual fixed costs by $1.5 billion through a 22 percent reduction in salaried employes in this country. Two major assembly plants and several component plants have been closed, he said.

Cash reserves have been cut by $1.2 billion, debt has risen by $2.5 billion, inventories have been reduced $500 million and dividend payments cut by $350 million. "These programs have bought time, but such steps cannot substitute in the long run for profits -- and to earn profits domestic producers must have a larger share of the U.S. market for cars and trucks," Caldwell said, renewing his call for tough import restrictions on Japan.

UAW President Douglas Fraser, in his response to Baldrige, repeated that the UAW will not reopen its current auto contract now. But he said the companies' financial plight will be taken into account when a new contract is negotiated next year.

Michigan Democratic Sens. Donald W. Riegle and Carl Levin told Baldrige that the one-year cutback suggested by the Japanese is inadequate.