TOKYO -- With top officials from 158 countries in town for the royal enthronement this past week, editorial cartoonist Sampei Sato decided to help out by offering a "Guide to Japanese Social Customs for Foreign Big Shots," including "don't wear shoes when you go in a house; "don't drop the bowl when you eat rice; and "don't mention money when you meet the prime minister."

That last "don't" was Sato's own tongue-in-cheek rule of etiquette, and it is one that most of the big-shot visitors seemed to break as they lined up for private sessions here with Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama.

The two Japanese leaders held personal talks this week with representatives from 99 countries, running through the distinguished guests assembly-line style in meetings that averaged about 15 minutes apiece. In literally dozens of those sessions, the chief topic was a request for financial aid from Japan.

Sato, the cartoonist, may have found this a breach of etiquette, but the Japanese government did not seem to mind. Instead, government officials here saw the nearly endless string of requests for aid as testament to Japan's status as an economic superpower in these early years of the Emperor Akihito's reign.

"We are using these occasions to explain Japanese contributions to worldwide programs," said Taizo Watanabe, the Foreign Ministry's spokesman. "We feel this {enthronement} ceremony marks the beginning of a new era in which Japan is expected to play a meaningful role corresponding to its economic position in the world."

Reading through the long list of penitent presidents and prime ministers who met with Kaifu here, Watanabe added: "We were impressed with the numbers and status of those who came. ... It shows rising expectations for Japan in the world."

Governments from Albania to Zambia, plus the United Nations and European Community, sent high-ranking representatives to the lavish enthronement ceremonies Monday for Akihito, who is said to be the 125th generation of the world's oldest family dynasty. For many, a key motivation for the trip seems to have been the chance to make a personal appeal for help from Japan, the world's biggest donor of aid to other governments.

Even the United States, the only country with a gross national product higher than Japan's, made an indirect appeal for help. Vice President Dan Quayle, after meeting with Kaifu for the relatively long period of 30 minutes on Wednesday, said that he had conveyed "appreciation and thanks" for Japan's $4 billion contribution to the Persian Gulf effort. But at a news conference, Quayle said he also told Kaifu that "everyone would have to be doing more" because of the prospect that the allied forces in the gulf will become larger in number.

Quayle also became the highest-ranking U.S. official to ask Japan to allow imported rice into the country. In his meetings with Kaifu this year, President Bush refrained from specifically mentioning the politically sensitive rice issue.

"The 'R' word did pass my lips," Quayle said. The vice president said that a Japanese concession on rice could be particularly helpful in getting world trade negotiations back on track.

The Soviet Union also asked for economic support from Japan. Nakayama, the foreign minister, replied Japan will not be strongly inclined to increase aid to the Soviet Union unless the question of the four "northern territories" -- that is, four islands north of Japan that were seized by the Soviets in 1946 -- is resolved.

Although Kaifu and Nakayama offered general pledges of aid to several countries, only a few, evidently, came away with specific new grants. Kaifu promised about $227 million to the Philippines, largely for earthquake relief. Peru, a country that elected a president of Japanese descent earlier this year, received a pledge of about $23 million in loans.

Not every bilateral session was a one-way street. In discussions with Indonesian President Suharto, Kaifu promised to continue Japanese aid and help Indonesia attract Japanese tourists. Suharto, in turn, said he would seek to assure Japan of a stable supply of oil.

Kaifu met for 10 minutes with a representative of the government of Kuwait, reiterating Japan's decision to stand with the United States in demanding Iraq's withdrawal from the small country.