TOKYO -- Japan to the United States: Leave your lawyers home.

The language wasn't quite that blunt, of course, but that was the gist of the message as two days of U.S.-Japan negotiations here ended in a stalemate over the issue of expanding American lawyers' rights to practice in this country.

Negotiators from both sides said last week that no solution was reached on any of the areas in which the United States sought to loosen Japanese restrictions on foreign lawyers. The two countries agreed to meet again sometime in the future, but "the shape of a deal is just not there," one American participant said.

The Japanese maintain a set of limitations that make it difficult for foreign lawyers to offer full representation for clients here. While Japanese law firms are free to hire American lawyers, foreign firms are not allowed to hire Japanese lawyers. Nor can they affiliate with Japanese firms.

U.S. firms that swallow the considerable expense of setting up shop here -- the figure is more than $1 million per year for a one-partner office, lawyers said -- are not even allowed to practice under their own name.

The long-established New York firm Sullivan and Cromwell, for example, is known here by the unwieldy name of "Stephen Grant Gaikokuho Jimu Bengoshi {Sullivan and Cromwell}." If Stephen Grant, the partner running the Tokyo office, ever leaves, his firm will have to change its name using the new partner's last name, losing whatever recognition it has built up during Grant's tenure.

All of these restrictions make it difficult for U.S. firms to serve American and Japanese clients, Grant said. "Particularly in Japan, the business community wants the assurance of working with an established firm. But we can't call ourselves by the name of our firm. We can't hire Japanese lawyers who could help us provide our clients complete service."

The United States has been complaining for years about these restrictions, asserting they amount to trade-protection measures because they limit the ability of U.S. firms to operate in the Japanese market.

Under pressure, Japan liberalized access for foreign lawyers in 1987, setting up a special status called "Foreign Attorney Office" for non-Japanese lawyers. In the ensuing three years, 80 foreign lawyers have registered for the right to that title; the restrictions make it difficult to earn money from a Tokyo office.

The Japanese noted, accurately, that they are not particularly open about letting their own people practice law, either.

The Japanese bar exam -- there is one each year for the whole country -- makes the 50 percent pass rate for the D.C. bar look like a cakewalk. More than 24,000 people took the national bar exam here this year, and about 400 were admitted to the bar -- a pass rate less than 2 percent.

The result is reflected in an often-cited comparison: Japan has one lawyer for every 9,000 people, while the United States has one lawyer for every 355. But those numbers are misleading because they conceal the fact that many of the services provided by lawyers in the United States are carried out in roughly similar fashion here by banks or by the government-liaison offices of the big firms.

Each year, hundreds of Japanese law graduates go to the United States to attend law school and take a state bar exam. With that credential, they can come back here and build a law practice. This five- to seven-year diversion is considered acceptable to many graduates here because passing the Japanese bar is so rare.

In last week's negotiations, the U.S. side, led by Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Merit Janow, asked that foreign law firms here be permitted to hire Japanese lawyers, to form partnerships with Japanese firms, to arbitrate international disputes, and to practice under their firm's normal name. No resolution was reached on any of those points.

A Japanese government official said some progress might be made on another U.S. demand -- that Japan reduce the current requirement that foreign lawyers have five years' practice in their own country before registering here -- but could not say when any changes would take place.