The 1,000 or so who crammed into the Mayflower Hotel grand ballroom last night would have intimidated even the most fearless of politicians. But fortunately, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, the guest of honor, seemed to like crowded places. He was almost crushed against a mirrored wall twice. And he lost his wife once.

Sponsored by the Japan-America Society of Washington to the first leg of Nakasone's visit to this country, the early eveing party played host to the vast Japanese community, as well as scores of American businessmen and State Department officials. Following the reception, Nakasone was honored by Vice President George Bush with the A list gathered for dinner.

Earlier in the day, Nakasone met with President Reagan. The men agreed to resist pressures to impose import and export limits, a major point of contention between the two countries. With Congress toying with protectionist legislation to limit Japanese exports and protect U.S. jobs, the Japanese are worried.

"The meetings today with the president, and then later his Cabinet, were very fruitful," Nakasone said primarily through an interpreter, "and tomorrow I go to the Capitol and expect some stormy sessions there. But Japan and the U.S. are two major pillars across the Pacific and the two nations can work together ... and secure peace in the world. U.S.-Japanese relations are in a more challenging period. It is crucial we rise to meet the challenge ...

"I am aware of the economic difficulty facing the U.S. today. When we see pictures of people standing on soup lines and sleeping in their cars, we are very saddened. But we are friends, and friends in need help each other when we can..."

No sooner did the prime minister's words fade out from the balcony than the jungle moved in.

"We have got to get him out of here," called out one Secret Service agent. "Get him onto the floor."

"I'm Ambassador Volpe," pleaded John Volpe, former U.S. ambassador to Italy. "I want to make sure he sees me."

"Ambassador Volpe, we have to get him to the main floor," explained the agent, very politely.

"But I want him to see me," said Volpe, equally polite.

"He will," assured the agent. He did.

"My good friend," said Volpe, clutching the prime minister's hand, "you were wonderful tonight. Just delightful."

The prime minister, who speaks little English, smiled.

"Do you remember me?" asked Volpe. "We had dinner together in Tokyo ... with my wife?"

The prime minister smiled again.

Then, a crisis.

Secretary of State George Shultz arrived and panic set even deeper into the eyes of the Secret Service agents. Everyone started yelling "Shultz" -- in Japanese and English -- and bodyguards attempted to budge Nakasone the 10 feet toward the secretary of state.

Finally they met.

"Hello," said the prime minister.

"You're attracting crowd," said Shultz observantly.

That was that.

For the better part of an hour, Nakasone braved the mob. Some people ate egg rolls and smoked mussels. Some people smothered the prime minister. He seemed to enjoy every minute of it. Even the poking, touching and kissing.

"I have so much emotion that you all came here," said Nakasone, edging for the door. "Thank you so much ..."

THe police escort sirens roared. And he rode off into the frigid wind to be with George Bush.