Japan must act soon, and on its own, to ease growing trade tensions with the United States, Commerce Secretary Malcolm Baldrige said yesterday, at the end of meetings between the administration and a high-level international economic committee from Tokyo.

Baldrige renewed his warning that he would be forced to support congressional restrictions on Japanese imports if the Japanese government didn't persuade its companies to purchase more American goods. While there is no official U.S. position on trade restrictions, his view represents the "general feeling" of the administration, he said.

As the administration's position toward Japan has toughened, it has become Baldrige's role to apply public and private pressure. He appeared yesterday to offer no compromise to the economic mission headed by Masumi Esaki, a leader of Japan's Liberal Democratic Party, which met with administration and congressional leaders this week.

The Japanese officials protested that the United States is pushing too hard to close the trade imbalance between the two countries--a gap that Baldrige said could reach $18 billion in Japan's favor this year. The Commerce secretary rejected Japanese suggestions that trade issues might be resolved through negotiation and closer communication between the two countries, as well as more aggressive, skillful marketing by American businessmen in Japan.

If the Esaki committee reports to Toyko that the problem is just a matter of educating American businessmen, then it will have failed, Baldrige said.

"We don't believe in ultimatums," But, he added, "time is running out. I think we all understand that. . . We hope to see some movement quickly."

Baldrige again cited several specific issues: a combination of duties and marketing limitations have made the price of American cigarettes 50 percent above competing Japanese brands, effectively closing U.S. companies out of that $11 billion market, he said. In Hong Kong, American companies have 80 percent of the market.

But he claimed that such examples are too numerous for negotiations.