HERE IS AN alternately charming and hardhitting, consistently wise and witty account of why the Japanese are the way they are and how Americans can come to terms with them. As a set of practical instructions in understanding, coping with, and untangling past shocks and present grievances, this book should be at the bedside of every businessman, diplomat, politician, and office or factory worker who deals with the Japanese.

Robert Christopher's credentials are impeccable--quondam senior editor at Time, foreign and executive editor at Newsweek, and at present administrator of Pulitzer Prizes. And while a little short on the aesthetic, as opposed to sociological, aspects of "culture," Christopher compresses 40 years of experience with the people, business, industry and politics of Japan into a handy manual guaranteed to cure a lifetime's misapprehensions. He asks how Japan, "a small, inherently unpromising country . . . a clutch of mountainous islands with no significant natural resources," could have transformed itself into "the world's second-greatest industrial power in the space of thirty-five years."

Christopher's answer comes not in a single sentence but in the course of chapter by chapter descriptions laced with personal anecdotes of how the Japanese feel, think, work, act, and react in the home, at school, in the factory, and at high governmental levels. Everywhere too come Christopher's urgent cautions that there is a "prevailing American ignorance of Japan and the true nature of its accomplishments" among both our decisionmakers and our ordinary citizens.

Again and again Christopher warns of "the extent to which America's economic well-being and international security rests on Japan." "Japan is the world's largest importer of American agricultural products," he notes. "As of mid-1981, Japanese interests controlled wholly or in part some 225 U.S. manufacturing companies, and nearly 10 percent of all U.S. exports were being shipped abroad by the American subsidiaries of Japan's giant trading companies. By that point too, nearly 90,000 Americans, ranging from production line workers to heavy-hitting Washington lobbyists, were working directly for Japanese companies, and at least another quarter of a million indirectly owed their livelihoods to Japanese patrons."

"Japan is investing some $2.5 billion a year in research into energy conservation and the development of alternative energy sources," Christopher points out. "By 1982 there were nearly three times as many advanced reprogrammable robots at work in Japan as in the United States (and) while there were only twenty companies manufacturing robots in the United States, there were more than six times that number in Japan . . . Pac- Man, mini-tape recorders, video-cassette recorders and those handy-dandy earphones that enable growing throngs to stalk our cities vacant-eyed as they solace themselves with Mozart or Mick Jagger--all these originated in Japan, and even when manufactured in the United States are mostly made by Japanese-owned companies or under license from Japanese firms."

Helter-skelter invasion of things Japanese has led to friction and a "significant erosion of American goodwill," according to Christopher. In 1980, "84 percent of Americans looked favorably upon the Japanese and only 12 percent had negative feelings toward them . . . in 1982, however, the 'favorable' figure had fallen to 63 percent and the 'negative' one had jumped to 29 percent." He quotes the congressman who "publicly referred to the Japanese as 'the little yellow people,' " and mentions that Milwaukee workers "tore down a Japanese flag that had been raised in honor of a group of visiting businessmen from Tokyo," that an Ohio credit union "barred loans for the purchase of imported cars," and that in several U.S. auto factories "the company parking lot was formally or informally closed to Japanese cars."

Christopher leads the reader through the thorny intricacies of Japanese manufacturing "superiority" and its effect on us sensitive Americans who don't like being told, as the late Prime Minister Ohira said, "The United States has changed from a superpower to just another power." He nevertheless blames America as "primarily responsible for the one-sided nature of the U.S.-Japanese trade." He asks why it is "more reprehensible for Japan to run consistently large trade surpluses with the United States than it is for the United States to run consistently large trade surpluses with the Common Market, as we have done for the past twenty-five years, or with Canada." In any event, he says, "any U.S. Senator ought to know (that) a very large part of the persistent American trade deficit with Japan could be wiped out at one stroke if Congress would repeal the foolish law that prohibits Alaskan oil producers from selling their crude in Japan."

Christopher gives short shrift to the "article of faith for many Americans that Japan's current prosperity rests heavily upon the fact that it is getting a 'free ride' militarily." "We have no other sensible choice," he says. "Without the air and naval bases that Japan affords us, our most advanced Pacific bases would be so far from the mainland of Asia as to make it close to impossible for us to offer any meaningful assistance to our Asian Allies or any serious deterrent to our enemies in the region. More important yet is the fact that however weak they may be militarily, the Japanese ultimately hold the balance of power in Asia."

In the end, Christopher warns that Japanese rearmament could cause Japan to "create its own defense industries and become a major competitor in the international arms trade; already, it is said, U.S.-designed missiles built in Japan with largely Japanese components are superior in quality to American-made versions of the same weapons."

The Japanese Mind is a much-needed corrective to entrenched ways of thought. Anything which so gently and helpfully disabuses us of arrogance and disregard couldn't be more welcome.