AJAPANESE FIRM hopes to market a new type of garlic in this country. It will look, cook and taste like the garlic we now know, but will have this important difference: a person who has eaten some of it will not have the distinctive ambiance that usually makes the garlic eater readily identifiable even at some distance.

The Japanese company is, in this venture, banking on the peculiar American passion for deodorizing. Surely, it reasons, a people who purchase separate deodorants for the body, the bathroom, the kitchen and the car is ready for a deodorized garlic (in this case, a garlic that has been soaked in a solution of acids to kill the enzymes that create garlic breath).

It's a logical assumption, but probably a mistaken one. True, Americans spend an amazing amount of time, money and chemicals combating smells that most other societies manage to coexist with. But in the case of garlic odors, a worldwide truce seems to be in effect that extends even to this country.

"Garlic represents people throwing their social concerns to the wind and expressing their pure pleasure, without any fear of repercussions because of bad breath," said L. John Harris, a writer on the subject who was interviewed by the Associated Press. "The whole pleasure of eating garlic is a lingering knowledge that you've had a garlicky meal."

The so-called "garlic problem" has been with us for some time, and it is probably significant that -- until now, anyway -- not much effort has been made to solve it. In "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a play written some four centuries ago, Bottom the Weaver tells his fellow workmen just before they present their play-within-a-play for royalty: "And, most dear actors, eat no onions nor garlic, for we are to utter sweet breath." But even then, it appears, such advice wasn't heeded, because the ensuing low comedy and song-and-dance are just the sort of thing that flourishes best in an atmosphere redolent with the fumes of wine, onions and a great deal of garlic.