CALL IT Eastern Intrigue:
* One of Washington's hottest new restaurants is Perry's, a new-wavish pink- and-aqua sushi bar in Adams-Morgan.
* You won't catch American National Theater director Peter Sellars venturing out in public without one of his brightly colored happi coats.
* And here come two versions of Japan's traditional Kabuki theater. Chicago's Wisdom Bridge Theater Company is currently presenting its "Kabuki Medea" at the Terrace Theater, with American actors performing the Greek tragedy Kabuki-style (review on page 9). That sets the stage for the spectacular 91-member Grand Kabuki, last here in 1982, which will visit the Kennedy Center for two weeks, Tuesday through August 4.
What's going on here, anyway?
"It's not an immediate explosion," says Peter Grilli, director of education at the New York- based Japan Society and a consultant to the Metropolitan Opera, which is helping to present the Grand Kabuki tour. America's fascination with Japan, he says, has "been constantly accelerating over the past ten years. During WWII Japan was our enemy. After the war, we saw them as a source of cheap products and junk and shoddy toys. That perception has been turned around to one of great quality and expertise in material goods. And that's been accompanied by a recognition of the depth and quality of Japanese culture -- including theater, music, food, fashion, art and literature."
"Japan is a state o' mind," says Peter Sellars, who theorizes that Japanese style is influential now "because we have so much to learn from it, not only in the business world, but in the aesthetic world. It's the notion that nothing goes to waste -- here's a culture that has worked on gathering and cherishing every single moment."
"It's always been difficult for foreigners to grasp Japanese culture, but now it's more accessible than it ever used to be. That's part of the fascination," says Barbara Robertson, the Chicago actress who plays the title role in "Kabuki Medea."
Japan is more accessible -- if you know where to look. You may not be able to foot the bill for a visit to Japan -- roundtrip airfare alone on Japan Airlines is $1,305 -- but you can enjoy an immersion right here at home.
* Start with the Japan Information and Culture Center (917 19th St. NW), a branch of the Japanese Embassy. It currently features a poster exhibition of Japanese graphic arts commemorating the 40th anniversary of the atomic destruction at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There are weekly cultural film programs every Wednesday at 7 p.m. And on July 26, there will be a free screening of Akira Kurasawa's classic "Rashomon" at 7 p.m. The center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 234-2266 for information about daily programs.
* The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Jefferson Drive SW) has one of the country's finest collections of Oriental art. On July 26, the gallery opens a show of "Japanese Theater in the Edo Period," with paintings on hanging scrolls, hand scrolls and screens depicting Kabuki and bunraku puppet theater from 1615-1868. Also continuing though September is an exhibition of "Japanese Calligraphy." Call 357-1300.
* The Biograph Theater (2819 M St. NW) has scheduled its seventh Japanese Film Festival August 2 through September 20, opening with Shohei Imamura's 1983 Cannes Golden Palm winner "Ballad of Narayama," August 2-8. That's followed August 9-12 by Oshima's shocking, beautiful "In The Realm of the Senses" and "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," starring David Bowie and his Japanese counterpart, pop star/actor Ryuichi Sakamoto. There will also be an exhibit of Japanese art, kimonos and banners in the lobby. The Biograph has also scheduled "Demon Pond" (August 20), a film starring the Grand Kabuki's onnagata (female impersonator) superstar Tamasaburo Bando. Call 333-2696. And the Key Theater (1222 Wisconsin Ave. NW) plans to keep the lovely "The Makioka Sisters" on its screen at least through Thursday. Call 333-5100.
* An oasis of calm can be found at the National Arboretum's bonsai garden, housed in a specially built pavilion at the National Arboretum (3501 New York Ave. NE). The priceless collection of painstakingly cultivated dwarf plants (bonsai means "tray-planted") was donated by the Japanese people in commemoration of our bicentennial, and includes flowering azaleas, camellias and crabapples; groves of miniature beech trees and conifers, including a 280-year- old red pine from the Japanese imperial collection and a 360-year-old Japanese white pine, the oldest of the lot. The white crape myrtle is in bloom right now. A special area of the arboretum called Asian Garden features Japanese, Korean and Chinese plants, with a gazebo overlooking the river. The bonsai pavilion is open daily 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Call 475-4815.
* Find a seat along the river Monday for a free taste of Kabuki grandeur as the Grand Kabuki troupe travels by banner-bedecked boat in a ceremonial procession up the Potomac River to the Kennedy Center. The boat will leave the Ohio Drive dock at 7 p.m. and move upstream to the Kennedy Center, arriving at 8 p.m., where a musical march will begin. (Best locations for observers: KenCen's River Terrace, the Thompson Boat Center dock, or along Rock Creek Parkway.)
* As a companion to the Grand Kabuki's visit, the Smithsonian Resident Associates program offers a lecture series of films, slides and sound recordings on classic Japanese theater styles: Noh, Bunraku and Kabuki. The series runs for four consecutive Mondays at 6 p.m., beginning this Monday. Cost is $50; or $76, which includes a ticket to a Grand Kabuki performance Wednesday at 8 p.m. Call 357-3030.
* Georgetown's Shogun Gallery (1083 Wisconsin Ave. NW, second floor), which specializes in Japanese woodblock prints, is noting the Grand Kabuki's appearance with an exhibit of 19th-traits, including scenes from several of the plays being performed here. Shogun also has bins and drawers full of other prints, including beautiful women (bijin-ga), sumo wrestlers and warriors, scenes from Japanese legends and landscapes. Call 965- 5454.
* Hurry over to the 9:30 Club (930 F St. NW) to see the new-wave nightspot's tongue-in- cheek tribute to Japan. Club owner Dody Bowers, a fan of Japan, decided to decorate the nightclub in the Japanese style, installing lanterns, a mural of Mt. Fuji and a softly lit Zen rock garden in the formerly forbidding basement. But Saturday night is your last chance to dance in "downtown's Japan." After that, work begins on the next theme: "Undersea World," which opens Thursday. Call 638-2008.
* Stop for souvenirs at Ginza (1721 Connecticut Ave. NW), a Japanese specialty store named after the largest shopping district in Tokyo. Dan Yoshida, a third-generation Japanese-American, took over the store from his mother, who founded it in 1955. Along with futons and kimonos, which have always been popular, Yoshida says, Ginza is lately selling a lot of ikebana supplies for the art of Japanese flower arranging. Call 331-7991. Other Japanese specialty stores include Full Circle (317 Cameron Street, Alexandria. 683-4500), Mikado Grocery (4709 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 362-7700), and Tokyo Collection (3327 M St. NW. 342-0388.)
* Good news for Godzilla fans: the world's favorite mutant reptile is 30 years old, and two new Godzilla movies are looming on the horizon. A swell Godzilla lighter, Godzilla toys and the Godzilla and Mothra soundtracks can be found at Melody Record Shop (1529 Connecticut Ave. NW). And a few doors down, Smulls' (1505 Connecticut Ave. NW) carries funny Godzilla earrings in several shades.
* Be sure to make time for sushi and green tea (or one of Japan's wonderful beers, Kirin or Sapporo). Sushi is slices of raw fish artfully arranged on a rice cake; sashimi is the raw fish alone. Both are delicious served with the green wasabi paste, a sinus-clearing horseradish concoction that's blended with soy sauce. Perry's (1811 Columbia Rd. NW), which also serves other Japanese dishes, is popular with the trendies because of the electronic music by Kitaro and others, Japanese videos on the giant screen, and especially its creative young sushi chefs. Be sure to sit at the sushi bar, so you can watch the fun as the chefs swiftly prepare and arrange the sushi. Call 234-6218.
Here's a sampling of other Japanese restaurants you might also try:
GINZA -- 1009 21st St. NW. 833-1245.
JAPAN INN -- 1715 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 337-3400.
MIKADO -- 4707 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 244-1740.
NARA -- 7756 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda. 986-9696.
SAKURA -- 7926 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring. 587-7070.
SAMURAI SUSHIKO -- 2309 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 333- 4187.
SHIRO-YA -- 2423 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 659-9449.
TAKESUSHI -- 1020 20th St. NW. 466-3798.
TOKYO -- 1736 Connecticut Ave. NW. 462-7891.
YOSAKU -- 4712 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 363-4453.