In a Western home, Japanese dishes are served: blossons on a pine tree.

--Tomiyasu Fusei; Modern Japanese Haikee, University of Toronto Press

THE GREAT WAVE of Japanese chic that is splashing high tech, high fashion and haiku onto the shores of the western world is also bringing a new wave of Japanese cuisine--the summertime world of the cold noodle.

Summer in Japan is hot and humid, very much like it is in Washington, D.C., and summer in Japan means somen--wire- thin frosty white noodles served chilled and floating in a clear glass bowl mingling with cracked ice and decorated in exquisite Japanese fashion with a single perfect leaf or a bright red cherry.

Somen is a communal dish. Family or guests dip into the bowl with chopsticks lifting up long strands of the snowy noodles. They are held high to drip, then swished through a hand-held cup of amber dipping sauce and put quickly into the mouth.

"Slurp," goes Carol Takahashi of Takoma Park as she swoops noodles neatly from broth to mouth. "It is polite and expected in Japan," says Takahashi, who grew up in Kobe, an affluent suburb of Osaka.

While many westerners can keep a wok busy stir-frying vegetables and meats Chinese-style, Japanese cooking is just beginning to come into its own. Some of it is very complicated. Even the Japanese don't cook sushi or slice their own sashimi. They go to Japanese restaurants and get it from the experts.

But there are many simple Japanese dishes whose distinctive flavors can be created at home with only a few exotic ingredients that are now available at the oriental markets springing up like bamboo shoots in suburban shopping centers.

"Japanese make things soooooo hard," says Takahashi, who admits she is willing to take a few liberties with cherished Japanese cooking traditions. This she does in the classes she teaches in her home for Open University.

The fear and mystery of Japanese ingredients begin to fall away as Taskahashi slices cucumbers quicker than a food processor, stirs bright green horseradish with a chopstick and lifts water-softened dried seaweed up for viewing in her kitchen high in the woods overlooking Sligo Creek.

Takahashi remembers that as a child the first sound she heard when she awakened was a steady grate, grate, grate. It was the sound of the rock-hard slabs of mahogany-colored dried bonita being shaved by a maid or her mother to make dashi broth, the staple flavoring of Japanese cuisine that gives a refreshing whiff of the sea to a Japanese home. It is neither a fishy nor a salty aroma, but more of a cool, fresh sensation of a sea breeze.

But it is also Dashi that always has been one of the obstacles that kept foreigners from tackling Japanese cooking. They couldn't get the necessary shaved bonito and dried kelp seaweed. Chicken broth was (and is) a substitute, but it lacks the distinctive flavor.

But now dashi can be found in an instant powder form marketed as Hon Dashi or Dashi-No-Moto. This produces an acceptable substitute even used by many Japanese.

The menu of cool summer foods chosen by Takahashi is a simple one using many items available at an ordinary supermarket. Only a few items are necessary from an oriental market, and for some of these there are substitutes. Most of the exotic items will keep for long periods, with a couple of exceptions--the wasabi horseradish and the rice wine, sake'.

Two varieties of cold noodles are used. One, the somen is a wheat vermicilli, hand-stretched for three centuries in Japan, but now machine-made. The other is soba, a light brown buckwheat noodle. Sometimes it is green, a variety made with the addition of green tea. Soba is often served on flat bamboo basket plates or woven reed mats. But it can be served on regular plates or bowls when well-drained.

Besides the Japanese noodles, some of the other items you will need are: Dried Mushrooms--A wide variety is available packaged in oriental markets. For this menu, look for a medium sized mushroom, if not marked, a shitake mushroom, the ordinary field mushroom, will do nicely. They should be soaked 30 minutes in warm water before using.

Ginger--This is fresh ginger root now found in most good supermarkets. Powdered ginger is not a substitute. Choose firm ginger, wrap it in a paper towel before storing in an airtight plastic bag in the refrigerator. It will keep two weeks, sometimes longer.

Kezuri-Bushi--High quality dried bonito flakes, which look like fine wood shavings, are used often as a flavorful garnish.

Mirin--A very sweet sake cooking wine, a very basic ingredient in many Japanese dishes. Japanese food writer Joan Itoh says that mirin "does not so much sweeten as give an almost indefinable but undeniable piquancy to the taste." Sweet sherry is a substitute.

Nori--This is the most popular sea moss in Japan, used crumbled or slivered for a garnish, or as a wrapping for sushi and other foods. It is sold in dried sheets. These sheets are usually toasted to improve flavor and texture. This is done by holding a sheet between the two hands and waving it back and forth over an open flame of a gas burner. The color will change from dark brown to a beautiful bronze green. It should be kept in an air-tight container.

Sake'--This is the traditional Japanese rice wine served warmed as a drink and often as an ingredient in the recipes. Sake' doesn't keep well. Very dry sherry is a substitute.

Soy Sauce--"Be patriotic, buy American," says Takahashi, who uses Kikkoman soy sauce "brewed in Wisconsin." Japanese soy sauce is milder than the Chinese versions, but Kikkoman is often recommended by Japanese cookbooks.

Rice Vinegar--Takahashi uses Mitsukan rice vinegar, but a good distilled white vinegar can be used. To take off the hard edge of a regular vinegar, she places some in an enamel or other nonmetal pan, brings it to boil and cools it.

Wakame--Another basic seaweed sold packaged in black hard strips. When soaked for 15 minutes in water, it expands tenfold to miraculously become an enormous and beautiful green lobed leaf that looks like it just washed up on the beach at Santa Barbara. Just a tiny bit will produce far more seaweed than you are expecting, so start slowly. Cut off and remove any hard stems or ribs after soaking.

Wasabi--A Japanese horseradish sold here in a powdered form. When mixed with a few drops of water it transforms into a brilliant green paste, a perfectly stunning color. It is hot, sharp but bright tasting and should be used sparingly. It does not keep well. (American horseradish is not a substitute.)

Here are some summer cool recipes, most from Takahashi. The number of servings listed is very subjective and depends on the number of dishes that are served at one meal. HIYASHI SOMEN (Chilled noodles with dipping sauce) (4 to 6 servings) Japanese seasonings, while strong and distinctive, are used very sparingly. Gently, gently is the only way to approach Japanese cooking. All ingredients should retain an identity without any one of them taking over and masking the others. This is why many of the condiments are kept in separate bowls so they may be added discreetly, adding and tasting, until a lovely balance is achieved. 8 ounces Japanese somen noodles For the dipping sauce: 1 1/2 cups dashi broth 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup mirin For decoration: Single green leaf such as mitsuba, japanese parsley or flat leafed Italian parsley 2 or 3 bright red stemmed cherries 2 or 3 cherry tomatoes 3 thin slices of lemon For the condiments: 1/2 cup scallions, chopped very finely 1/4 cup wasabi, mixed with water to paste consistency 1 sheet nori, cut into very fine strips with scissors

Cook noodles as directed on the package. Or cook in a large pot of boiling water (unsalted) to the al dente stage (about 3 minutes). Drain and immediately rinse thoroughly in cold water, running fingers through the noodles to remove starch. Place covered in water in the refrigerator until needed.

Bring sauce ingredients to a boil, cook for a minute. Cool. (If your instant dashi does not have instructions, use 1/2 teaspoon dashi powder to 1 cup water.)

To serve, place chilled noodles in a large glass bowl. Add just enough ice water and cracked ice or cubes to float the noodles. Swirl into an attractive pattern. Garnish with decorations.

Pour sauce into individual glass cups. Place condiments in small bowls. Guests add a little of each of the condiments to their cup of dipping sauce. Guests dip into noodles with chopsticks, allowing the water to drain, then dip the noodles into the cup of sauce held in the hand and then into the mouth. HIYASHI GOMOKU-SOBA (Chilled garnished noodles) (4 to 6 servings) 1 pound dried soba noodles 1/4 cup dashi (or water in which mushrooms were soaked) 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons mirin or sugar 5 or 6 dried mushrooms, soaked 30 minutes in warm water 6 slices cooked ham 1 medium cucumber 3 eggs 1/2 teaspoon salt For the dipping sauce: 1 1/2 cups dashi broth 1/2 cup soy sauce 1/4 cup mirin

Cook noodles according to instructions on package or in a large pot of boiling unsalted water to the al dente stage, about 3 minutes. Rinse immediately in cold water, running fingers through noodles to remove starch. Chill, let rest in water in the refrigerator. Mix together in a saucepan the dashi, or mushroom water, soy sauce and mirin or sugar. Add mushrooms cut into thin strips. Cook 5 minutes, drain and cool. Cut the ham and cucumber into strips same size as mushrooms. Beat the eggs with salt and fry into a thin crepe-like omelette. Cut the omelette into thin strips.

Bring sauce ingredients to a boil, cook for a minute. Cool. (If your instant dashi does not have instructions, use 1/2 teaspoon dashi powder to 1 cup water.)

To Serve: Place chilled noodles in individual bowls. On top, arrange clusters of ham, cucumber, mushroom and omelette strips. Pour the dipping sauce over all and serve.

This is also nice as a communal dish. Heap all the noodles in a large shallow bowl, arranging the ham, cucumbers, mushrooms and omelette strips in separate clusters on top. Pour over the dipping sauce. Adapted from "Japanese Cooking," by Peter and Joan Martin HIYA-YAKKO (Garnished tofu) (3 to 4 servings)

This was a class favorite--remarkably easy and a stunning new flavor.

2 8-ounce blocks tofu Scallion, finely chopped Kezuri-bushi (dried bonito flakes) Grated ginger Nori, cut into fine strips, about 2 inches long

Soy sauce

Cut each square tofu into 2 or 3 triangles. Place on a small attractive plate or bowl. Sprinkle with scallion, kezuri-bushi, grated ginger. Heap a little pile of nori strips on top. Sprinkle liberally with soy sauce. Eat with chopsticks. KYURI NO SUMOMI (Vinegared cucumber) (6 or 8 servings)

This is a very popular summer salad in Japan with many variations, sometimes just cucumber. Takahashi added a pound of cooked, cut up scallops. 4 medium cucumbers, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded Salt 1 piece wakame seaweed (about 1 cup soaked) For the dressing: 1/2 cup rice vinegar, or distilled vinegar 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon mirin, or sweet sherry

Slice cucumbers very thinly on a diagonal. Place in a bowl and salt moderately. Set aside for 20 minutes. Drain, rinse with water, squeeze gently to remove excess moisture. Add wakame chopped coarsely, and dressing ingredients. Toss and heap a small amount into center of tiny salad bowls. BEEF TATAKI (Cold rare beef with mustard-soy sauce) (8 servings)

Beef is very expensive in Japan and fish was the traditional ingredient in this dish. But the class agreed this was a wonderful way to cook a rare, very moist beef for summertime eating. It is also a dish that appears in the summer at Japanese embassy parties here. 2 to 4 pounds top or bottom round beef Garnishes: Sliced scallions, fresh grated ginger, vinegar, soy sauce Shredded lettuce for the plate For the sauce: 1 teaspoon dry mustard 3 or 4 tablespoons soy sauce

Select a piece of meat that is 2 to 3 inches thick. Cut this into uniform shaped sticks about 2 inches wide. Grill over charcoal, searing with a hot fire, turning to cook all four sides or until meat reaches desired stage of rareness--just a few minutes. (The Japanese often use a better cut of beef and leave the meat raw in the center.) Remove immediately from the heat and plunge into a bowl of ice water. When cooled remove from ice water and store in refrigerator until ready to serve. If the beef is more than 2 1/2 inches thick, slice, lengthwise. Now slice thinly as possible across the grain creating thin strips about 1 1/2-by-2 inches. Slice neatly so beef slices can be picked up in their stick shape and transferred to a platter. Sprinkle with scallion, ginger (not too much), vinegar and soy sauce. Pat seasonings into meat with fingers. Turn meat over and season other side. Decorate plate with finely shredded lettuce. Combine soy-mustard sauce ingredients together and pass separately. Guests pick up slices of beef with chopsticks and dip them into a tiny bit of the soy-mustard sauce. CHICKEN SAKA-MUSHI (Cold chicken steamed with ginger, sake' and onions) (4 to 6 servings)

As we started making this dish, Takahashi said, "Oh, boy I know what you're thinking. We are using the same seasoning in every dish. But just wait until you taste." She was right, we put practically the same thing on the tofu, but it was totally different with the chicken. This cold chicken has an exceptionally lovely flavor. 4 chicken breast halves Salt 6 tablespoons sake' (substitute dry sherry) 1 inch fresh ginger, sliced into 6 pieces 2 scallions, cut into 2 inch lengths Garnish: Chopped scallion, grated ginger and soy sauce

Prick holes in chicken with fork or chopstick. Sprinkle with salt and sake' rubbing with fingers to get seasoning into the flesh. Let stand 10 minutes. Lay pieces skin side up in shallow pan, scatter ginger and scallion pieces over chicken. Place pan, unncovered, in a steamer and steam over fairly high heat 15 minutes or until chicken is just tender. (If you don't have a steamer, place chicken pieces in a shallow foil-lined pan, add seasonings, cover tightly with foil which has been pricked in several places with a fork, cook in a 400-degree oven 30 minutes or until tender. Cool. Chill until ready to serve.

Slice thinly or shred with a sharp knife. Place on a platter, sprinkle with scallions sliced thinly, very small amount of grated ginger and soy sauce. ONIGIRI (Rice balls wrapped in seaweed)

Japanese meals often end with rice and pickles as a desert. Takahashi showed us a traditional combination that in Japan is the equivalent of our sandwich. She brought out a pot of warm cooked short grain rice, dipped her hands in ice water, sprinkled them with salt, and then molded rice in her left hand cupped to from a triangle. The idea is to press the rice firmly but gently, only hard enough to make grains of rice stick together. Sometimes a pickle is molded inside, or a piece of salted fish. In this case, Takahashi sprinkled the triangle shape with "sprinkle seasonings," little packets of mixed seasonings sold in oriental markets. Dried bonito flakes or black sesame seeds can also be used. The rice mold is then wrapped in a wide strip of nori seaweed. These can be made in round or oval shapes, placed in a pretty basket, decorated with a couple of leaves and served to the guests as finger food.

Many American cookbook writers, captivated by Japanese cuisine, have visited Kyoto to learn from Buddhist Abbess Soei Yoneda, author of "Good Food From A Japanese Temple," ($16.95) and the Osaka Culinary Institute to see Shizuo Tsuji, author of the highly regarded new book "Japanese Cooking, a Simple Art," ($18.75). Both are published by Kodansha International.