Japan agreed today to voluntarily limit color television exports to the United States, thus swiftly resolving major trading dispute between the two countries.

No exact ceiling figure has been set yet, but the principle of Japanese self-restraint was announced at an initial meeting between Robert Strauss, U.S. special representative for trade negotiation, and Minoru Masada, deputy vice-minister of international trade and industry.

The agreement is along the lines of a basic understanding reached by President Carter and Japanese Premier Takeo Fukuda at their meetings in Washington last month, officials here said.

But a spokesman for Strauss' office in Washington said whatever was discussed in Tokyo also is "subject to a good deal of discussion over here."

["The special trade representative was well aware the subject would come up, and was prepared to discuss it, but no formal, final resolution was planned," the spokesman said.]

Japan exported 2.96 million color television sets to the United States in 1976, 2.4 times more than in the previous year. The flood of imports triggered complaints by American manufacturers and trade unions. Ruling that the American industry was being hurt, the U.S. International Trade Commission urged President Carter on March 14 to raise import duties from the existing 5 per cent to 25 per cent.

Valued at more than $500 million, the imported Japanese television sets were an important element in a U.S. deficit of more than $5 billion in 1976 trade with Japan.

Earlier today, Strauss paid a courtesy call on Fukuda to deliver a letter from Carter and found the premier in favor of a quick solution to the TV problem. They also discussed the third summit of advanced industrialized nations to be held in London next month and trade negotiations under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

Both countries were eager to settle the dispute by negotiations rather than have the United States impose unilateral increases in duty. Japanese electronics industry leaders have estimated that retail price rises forced by a 25 per cent duty would cut their color television sales in the United States to one million a year.

Japanese trade officials do not concede that the U.S. industry has been hurt, but admit that the huge increase in Japanese exports last year cause problems. Shipments to the United States continued to increase in the first two months oft his year - up [WORD ILLEGIBLE] per cent in January and 24 per cent in February from the 1976 figures.

Following the broad agreement between Strauss and Masada, discussion has moved on to technical areas. Several Japanese television manufacturers have established plants in the United States and definition of finished and semifinished products may prove troublesome for the negotiators.

The conciliatory Japanese attitude stems from a desire to stem any increase of protectionist feeling in America. Government officials have stressed that to preserve free trade with the United States and nations of the European Economic Community, Japan must avoid concentrating its exports in narrow areas.