Americans are losing patience with Japan, feeling they are being taken for a ride on economics while Japan enjoys a free ride on defense. Once-latent resentment is now surging.

U.S. international analysts see that Japan's postwar foreign policy has been yen-dimensional. What the Japanese tout as "all-directional diplomacy" smacks of downright accommodation to outsiders.

Last year, Japan scooped up Iranian oil after the U.S. cutoff, and its financial wizards advised Iran on how best to skirt the U.S. freeze of its assets. And already this year, Prime Minister Masayoshi Ohira has characterized the Soviets are a "cautious, defensive people" as they were storming into Afghanistan.

Granted, the view from Tokyo gives rise to trepidation and some cause for accommodation. For the first time in the postwar era, the Pacific recently was barren of a U.S. aircraft carrier; indeed, the only carrier patrolling those waters was the Russian Minsk. This U.S. defense drawdown coincided with a three-pronged threat upturn: 1) uncertainty on the Korean peninsula, which sends shivers up Japanese spines now as it has through the centuries; 2) a doubling of Soviet Far East naval operations and a massive military buildup on the four northern islands Moscow seized during World War II; and 3) turmoil engulfing the Persian Gulf, from which Japan imports 72 percent of its oil, which constitutes a whopping 53 percent of its total energy needs.

Such a cascade of concerns coaxes some Japanese toward greater accommodation. One eminent economist there unveiled a "new theory" on defense in the leading publication "Bungei Shunju." In case of Soviet attack, "the Japanese should receive the Soviet force coolly with both a white flag and a red flag. . . . So far we stand firm" -- Michio Morishima wrote without noting the contradiction -- "we can build a socialist economy . . . in a new life under Soviet dominance."

Japanese of sterner stuff urge defense increases above the announced 0.9 percent of GNP or $9.3 billion in the fiscal year beginning April Fool's Day. They point out that a Japanese defense boost to 5 percent of GNP (the U.S. and U.K. level) would boost the total defense efforts of Western allies by a robust 20 percent.

U.S. security types relish the thought. They now look to allies to share more of the common burden, particularly to Japan, which has the most to give -- from the world's second-highest GNP -- and which has given the least relatively: its 0.9 percent is near rock-bottom around the world.

But all this is wishful thinking. Barring some volcanic eruption such as a second Korean conflict or a first Sino-Soviet one, Japan will not undergo a defense "breakout." Government there is strictly by consensus. A consensus has emerged that Japan's security is slipping but not that much should be done about it. Tokyo will stick to augmenting defense by a microscopic 1/100th of 1 percent of GNP each year for the next five.

Given Tokyo's refusal to bust the 1 percent barrier under current circumstances, what then can be done?

First and foremost, the United States can pull Japan into the big leagues of world affairs, to become an active player pitching in for the industrialized democracies. Last summer's economic summit paved the way as the first gala summit held in Tokyo since the war.

To further this new role, Japan can help bail out distant yet desperate Western friends such as Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey.

Last year, Tokyo did give Pakistan $54 million, Egypt $115 million and Turkey nothing; but this year all should be vastly increased -- by strong pressure from Washington if need be. For a large infusion of Japanese economic aid to such states serves vital and mutual security interests. Yet it avoids Tokyo's sending tremors through its own polity and through unforgetting Asian states that sudden Japanese rearmament might entail.

Second, Japan can also help bail out the United States in emergencies. It could purchase some or all of the American grain once destined for Russia and dispense it in Southeast Asia.

Third, Japan should assume more than its current half of the $1.2 billion doled out annually for U.S. forces stationed on its islands.

To come full circle, the Japanese should launch a full-blown national debate about their nation's role in the real world, the threats it faces from brazen Soviet expansion, the durability of childlike dependence on U.S. protection, etc. Surely the days of tolerating an "all directional" Japanese diplomacy have ended in Washington and should now end in Tokyo. It is mind-bending to think that Japan held recently a general election that evoked scarcely a peep on security issues -- certain to be the democracies' burning issues of the 1980s.

In essence, capitalism's practitioners par excellence in Asia must come to heed the sublime words of their godfather, Adam Smith: "Defense is of much more importance than opulence."