Tsutako Nakasone, a tiny, delicate woman who speaks in a near-whisper, sees her presence at the First Ladies Conference on Drug Abuse as largely symbolic.

"In Japan the number of drug addicts is not such a large number. Many Japanese people think that by my attending this conference, people will notice how many countries suffer with drug abuse. It's one of the points I may be able to contribute," she says through a translator.

Before this, Nakasone had not participated in any antidrug activities, but she says she is concerned about a particular drug problem in Japan: the use of amphetamines.

"To tell you the truth, I am a bit worried there is a growing number of people using stimulants," she says. "The people who start using them are housewives and youngsters. The housewives are encouraged to use them for diet or for tiredness, and they are ignorant of the effects of the drug. The youngsters use it because they don't enjoy their studies, so their friends encourage them to use drugs."

She says education is the best way to fight addiction. But Nakasone, 63, is not about to launch a Nancy Reagan-style crusade. "I always help my husband from the side, not directly. In Japan it is the custom for women to back up behind the scenes to help the husband," she says, adding, "I think it's changing little by little."

Nakasone says she admires the role the U.S. first lady has carved out, however. She also notes that during the Reagans' visit to Japan in 1983, the year after Yasuhiro Nakasone became prime minister, the Japanese people were impressed by the relationship between the president and his wife. "We noticed the couple are really on good terms and the president was very kind to her," she says.