James J. Wickel, 51, the top interpreter for the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo for many years, died Sunday in Tokyo after a heart attack.

He had been the offical interpreter during every high-level meeting between this country and Japan from the Eisenhower administration to the recent meeting between Prime Minister Fukuda and President Carter.

A career State Department offical, Mr. Wickel also had worked in Washington in the division of language services an the East Asian bureau's public affair office.

Born in Massachusetts, Mr. Wickel studied Japanese while serving with the U.S. Army in World War II. In 1947 and 1948, he was in Tokyo as a civilian with the Department of the Army

He then attended the University of Michigan, where he continued his Japanese language studies and earned a master's degree.

Mr. Wickel joined the State Department in 1957. He was assigned as a special assistant to the American ambassador to Japan in 1967. He returned to Washington in 1974 and went back to Japan two years later as program service officer of the U.S. Information Service.

He is survived by his wife, Fumi, now in Tokyo, and a daughter, Mrs. Ken Johnson, of Washington.