THE RESULTS of Prime Minister Suzuki's official visit in Washington gratified both sides. The Americans were pleased at the progress made in drawing Japan toward a larger defense role and the Japanese at their success in widening the American commitment to the non-military aspects of their mutual security. Since Mr. Suzuki got back to Tokyo, however, a good part of the sky seems to have fallen in. It will take the best efforts of both governments to recover.
The first difficulty arose over the joint communique, which had been drafted in English. Mention of an "alliance" elicited no particular attention in this country, since the word has been in common use since the U.S.-Japan security treaty was signed in 1952. In the Japanese translation, however -- our more attentive readers will recall that this was not the first translation incident of the Suzuki trip -- a slight variant was used. To Japanese it evokes the German-Italian-Japanese tripartite pact of 1940, and its ping immediately set off a wave of alarm. Whether it was introduced innocently or with an intent to condition Japanese public opinion to a new defense concept is unclear. But in the resulting uproar, the foreign minister resigned, and Mr. Suzuki is still explaining that while in Washington he did not make defense commitments extending beyond the modest role and slight expense on which Japanese public opinion currently insists.
This was the situation when Edwin . Reischauer, the former ambassador in Tokyo who is perhaps the leading American guide to Japanese ways, threw gasoline on the fire. Setting aside the discretion on nuclear affairs that has proved so serviceable over the decades, he casually confirmed that Japan permits American ships to carry nuclear weapons in and out of Japanese ports. There is no good time to stir the nuclear anxiety that, understandably, seems to be a permanent fixture in Japanese psychology and politics. This was a particularly awkward time. No part of the American hope that Japan will take on larger security role involves nuclear weapons. Raising the issue seems only to add to the political burden Mr. Suzuki was straining under already.
The ties between Japan and the United States are tried and true and will endure bumps like these. Still, nothing in the relationship should be taken for granted. Mr. Reagan and Mr. Suzuki, both new in office, had made a good start. They will have to accommodate these setbacks -- and keep at it.