Everybody was there but the goldfish -- not that kabuki dancing or the presence of Teddy Kennedy or even the Smithsonian's S. Dillon Ripley announcing he'd like to take to the stage as Dracula would make any difference to a goldfish.

"Yes, we had the tragic experience last year," said Japanese ambassador Fumihiko Togo, glancing out from the Japanese embassy foyer at the pond covered with ice.

This year, of course, the embassy carp are wintering in a tank "in the garage," Mrs. Togo was quick to report to any carp-lovers in the vicinity, which no doubt includes all of brass/class Washington, most of whom had come to the embassy after the opening of the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

The Japanese government, along with private donors, donated $3 million to build the theater, and piper. payers being tune-callers, the dedication ceremonies at the theater, located on the top floor of the Kennedy Center, were done kabuki style. By the time thekabuki players got through, it was hard to imagine a better way of doing them.

Kabuki is classic Japanese pageant/dance/ritual/music/theater in which legends are sung and acted to flutes, drums and samisens, which sound a bit like banjos played very, very slowly.

Its leading actor, Kanzaburo Nakamura, has been declared a National Living Treasure of Japan, and he was there last night to glide in front of Rosalynn and Amy Carter, who were the stars of the front row.

The Living Treasure scattered salt from east to west. Another actor struck a flint. Feet stamped, voices crooned and yelped, and clearly something very important was being signified -- that the Terrace Theater was getting broken in by high ritual.

Then Mrs. Carter, Kennedy Center head Roger Stevens, Ambassador Togo, and the Japanese delegation chief Nobuhiko Ushiba tried to do the same thing American style, with four chairs and a lectern, but for all they said they were welcoming and accepting and being grateful and all, the Living Treasure had actually done, it so the crowd was glad when the Kabuki returned with the Double Lion Dance.

Even with the prospects of the usual monstrous traffic jam in the Kennedy Center garage, hardly anyone left early for the reception at the embassy.

"I thought the brilliance of the acting transcended the language problem," said Sen. Kennedy.

Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) pointed out, however, that though he's been enjoying kabuki since 1952, when his company started doing business in Japan, "I must say that when they said that it would be a shortened version, I was glad. It can go on for five hours -- almost as long as an Indian movie -- but very good, very colorful."

Averell Harriman studied it through what appeared to be a small telescope, despite his front row seat. Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho), noting that the front row lacked programs, sprinted up to the ushers, took half a dozen. and spread them around. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall represented the Cabinet. Sen. Jacob Javits obeserved with his trademark look of preoccupied equanimity, as if he'd just decided he had not left his keys in the car and wasn't going to worry about it anymore.

Unlike ballet, which is a spectacle of implausibility, kabuki -- at least as performed by the National Treasure and the rest of the troupe -- looks like something anyone could do This, of course, is sufficient proof that it is not.

Whether it was appreciation of this, or of that clarion simplicity of classical Japanese arts, the applause was considerable.

Afterwards, at the embassy, Kanzaburo said that the standing ovation was his first ever.

"It's magnificent," he said through an interpreter. Asked if he felt weighed down by his treasure-dom, he spread his hands like an umpire calling safe at home plate and said, "I always feel the same."

Americans coming up to cogratulate him, however, felt moved to attempt small bows, Japanese style, but the strain of the effort was ignored by the troupe, which travels widely. They recently spent three weeks in China and performed before the China and performed before the vice premier, who will be at the White House tonight.

This fact, of course, had made it necessary, or at least politic, to move the theater dedication back to last night from its original date tonight. Presidential special assistant Anne Wexler phrased it most diplomatically when she said that there'd have been no conflict, but the White House had wanted to have at least one of the Carters at both occasions.

The art of politics and the politics of the arts mingled, as always. Said S. Dillon Ripley to Roger Stevens: "I think the theater should be used for experimental companies. Why don't we revive my Dracula -- I performed it when I was 13!"

Livingston Biddle was an esthetic blazon in a scarlet paisley tuxedo jacket. And Mrs. Catherine Shouse, doyenne of Wolf Trap, was still mad about not getting as much federal funding as she'd hoped for her own arts projects. "I don't think it's fair," she said, banging her cane on the rug.

And somewhere, deep in a cellar garage, the goldfish didn't have to do anything but wait for spring.