The bar at the New Otani Hotel is crowded at sundown. John Nakada and Shigeo Ikawa are sipping scotch.

The noise is disconcerting. Conversation is difficult. But we talk above the din about the past, about the war, about war crimes.

Nakada, an advertising executive in his 60s, spent 10 years in prison as a conspirator in the massacre of 500 Chinese and 50 to 60 Filipinos in Manila in 1944. He was a propagandist for the army and insists that he "opposed that plan" but it was carried out by the garrison commander.

Ikawa, 72, served nine years in prison for his part in the murder of two captured American servicemen on Chichi Jima in the Bonin Islands in 1944. They were tied to stakes, bayoneted and beheaded. "I was innocent," Ikawa says, although the record of his trial is ambiguous on the point.

There is an interesting twist to his story: "My wife, when she learned I was conviacted, she killed herself. . . . . While I was in prison my young children received money from the American major, Shaffer, who prosecuted my case. Can you find him for me? He must be a general now."

Robert D. Shaffer is in fact retired from the Marines and lives in Salt Lake City. He did donate money to Ikawa's children and remembers him as "quite a liar."

Since his imprisonment, Ikawa has lived quietly with his son and is now retired.

"After the war we tried to hide in our society. Our position is very low."

The conversation is running out. Ikawa becomes emotional.

"Yes, I am a war criminal. I helped plan the defenses at Iwo Jima. That is my crime."

As an alumnus of that battle, I tell him he had merely been doing his job and that was no crime, it was just war.

But he is tearful as he leaves with Nakada to become invisible in the crowd.

Young Americans don't remember any of that - the war criminals or the Japanese nationalists of the 1940s. They were a hard bunch.

The night after the attack on Pearl Harbor, a Tokyo radio station broadcast a martial song:

Across the sea, corpses in the water;

Across the mountain, corpses in the field.

I shall die only for the emperor,I shall never look back.

The Imperial Army already had raped and plundered its way through China, murdering 200,000 to 300,000 civilians in Nanking alone, by the estimate of the historian John Toland. Now the liberation of the rest of Asia was at hand. There were 110 divisions and brigades in the Japanese war machine, 351 major ships of war, 7,000 fighters and bombers.

They smashed the American fleet in Hawaii in 70 minutes, killing 2,403 soldiers and sailors at a cost of only 54 Japanese lives. They swept through Indochina, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Hong Kong fell on Christmas day, 1941, and there was a new slaughter of innocents. Sir Laurence Kadoorie, an elderly Hong Kong businessman, watched the roundup of the Chinese: "They were put on barges, 1,000 at a time, and towed out into the harbor. The Japanese killed them all."

Sumatra, Java, Borneo, the Celebes, much of New Guinea, the Philippines and all of the central Pacific islands, save for Midway, were conquered by the summer of '42. The British and Dutch were driven out of East Asia. The rich oil, rubber and mineral provinces of the East Indies were in Japanese hands. Australia was frightened and alone, waiting for the next blow.

The Japanese were full of themselves, eager to teach the white devils a lesson. A Tokyo newspaper editorialized in early 1942:

"To show them mercy is to prolong the war. Their motto has been, 'Absolute unscrupulousness.' They have not cared what means they employed in their operations. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Hesitation is uncalled for, and the wrongdoers must be wiped out."

Winston Churchill later wrote of this period:

"Over all this vast expanse of waters, Japan was everywhere supreme and we everywhere were weak and naked."

A couple of months ago, Ezra Vogel of Harvard published a book entitled,"Japan As Number One."

It extols Japanese economic, political and educational triumphs and concludes that "Japan has dealt more successfully with more of the problems of post-industrial society than any other country."

At the war Japan's gross national product was just over $1 billion. Today it exceeds $1 trillion, is greater than the GNP of the Soviet Union and is second only to that of the United States.

Japan leads the world in steel production and in shipbuilding capacity. It is third in automobile production. Its trade surplus was $25 billion last year, including a $13 billion surplus in transactions with the United States.

The old Japanese dream of an Asia for Asians has been fulfilled, although not precisely in the way they had planned it. The East Asia co-prosperity sphere is a reality. Raw materials pour into Japan to fuel the industrial machine. America devotes more acres of farmland to food production for Japan than do the Japanese. Their industrial and consumer products pour out in a flood that washes over Asia and the rest of the world.

They have created a stunning monument to capitalism. The discipline and zeal that made singleminded soldiers has beeb channeled into the corporate state. The Japanese also have become pragmatic and moralistic converts to pacifiam, thanks to the American military umbrella.

"Certain things," Edwin Reishauer has written, "seem crystal clear to most Japanese: that the militarists were tragically wrong, that war does not pay, and that Japan must at all costs avoid any involvement in future wars."

Ezra Vogel puts it another way:

"In a sense Japan's military policy is a bold enterprise, an effort to be the only major power that is not a major military power. It is a boldness that has high payoffs. You could say they have been born again.

Only a single generation has passed since Japanese troops occupied islands in the Aleutian chain and waited for America to sue for peace. Their savagery and treachery in the island battles that followed were not propaganda mythe dreamed up in the Office of War Information. They booby-trapped their wounded. They faked surrender carrying concealed grenades. They ensaved Koreans in their labor battalions and exposed them to certain death. They killed our wounded, murdered prisoners and in the Bonin Islands cannibalized 12 of our men.

A corporal named Okamoto described the executions at Chichi Jima for which Shigeo Ikawa was tried:

"First Lieutenant Ikawa came shouting as follows: 'Is the man from Enjo Tai present?' And I reported yes, that I was present and he said that I must bayonet a prisoner of war. I told [Ikawa] I was a slick man . . . whereupon he slapped me and said that if I could not do it, I must go along anyway. Then the tow [American] flyers were led up [the hill]. On the way up the hill, naturally I was feeling bad. I was exhausted and I started to lag behing, whereupon . . . Ikawa forced me up the hill.

"After we got to the place of the execution, four stakes were driven into the ground on the rim of a machine gun emplacement. The prisoners were tied to those stakes with their hands behind them. . . . The prisoners were made to kneel, and their hands were tied to these stakes. . . .

"Lt. Col. Ito . . . gave the order to stand at attention. . . . Then Lt. Col. Ito gave us the order to face toward the Imperial Palace, that is, toward the north, and gave the order to worship the emperor with a deep bow. . . . Then Lt. Col. Ito picked the executioners. . . . I was detailed to bayonet the prisoner on the left. There were five of us to bayonet this flayer. . . . Then Lt. Col. Ito gave another order to take up our position. Lt. Ikawa hit me on the back and gave me the command to stand up and take up my position. Then Lt. Col. Ito ordered me to bayonet the flyer. I did not comply with the command at once, whereupon . . . Ikawa shouted at me , that if I could mot bayonet the flyer at least that I should make the motion of bayoneting him. . . . I stopped my bayonet about three inches away from the flyer's chest. The prisoner chest was marked with one circle . . . which was drawn by Ito. This circle was about three inches in diameter. This was drawn right over the flyer's heart.

"After my thrust I immediately returned to the rear . . . I noticed that the other soldiers, the young soldiers, bayoneted the prisoner a number of times."

Shigeo Ikawa wants to return to Chichi Jima. His last wish, he says, is to raise a monument to honor the dead.

The Japanese have reoccupied Iwo Jima. You can walk the empty, black beaches, collect spent rounds and once more see the flag of the empire flying. The island commander, Hiroya Miwa, has set up a little museum, filled with rusted and broken relics of the war - old swords, bayonets, uniforms, robes kits, helmets, rifles. Nearby is a shrine where incenss burns over the bones of two man recently dug out of a cave. It is eerie. It seems so long ago and you wonder now what it was all about.

There is a moment outrage. What the hell are they doing on our island? Did we spend all that blood to hand it back to them? But that seems like a stupid question, too. History doesn't answer those things and in 1979 it's immaterial in any case.

Wars in Asia have been our national pastime. American boys have fought out here in 21 of the past 38 years and in every decade since the 1930s. The investment was more than $700 billion, 204,657 dead, 615,321 wounded. Even today, 140,000 American servicemen are in the Pacific, providing security for pacific Japan and other terrritory.

All of East Asia, excepting Indochina, is in the American orbit - or vice versa. It is a grand, extensive alliance embracing hundreds of millions of people; twice that if China is counted. The Pacific Ocean is at last an American lake. So I guess you could any both sides won the war. They've got their wealth, we've got our bases, sea lanes and ribbons.

The Disabled American Veterans met in convention in Hawaii last year and presented a plaque to Yoshimichi Hagawa, the professional director of the Disabled Japanese Veterans Association.

He was hospitalized with leg wounds in Hiroshima when the bomb fell. He was confused then about the war, what had caused it, how it could be ended. He's not sure why but he still had "the will to resist."

Today he worries about the "personalism" of the younger generation and abou t its susceptibility to false prophets. He thinks it is time to put the war behind us.

"America was our big enemy. But now our veterans feel a closeness to the Americans. As we fought, we knew each other as comrades from the battle, man to man. So let us be 'war friends' now."

We shake hands on that.