We have become accustomed to seeing Japan as the best organized, smoothest functioning industrial machine in the world, with a law-abiding, contented and affluent people and an extroadinarily stable democratic political system. That there is more to the picture has become all too clear in the past few weeks. Some of the sensitivities and instabilities of the early postwar years still remain. This was first shown in the political uproar over the use of the word "alliance" in a communique issued at the time of Prime Minister Suzuki's visit to Washingtion in early May. Bowing to the clamor, the foreign minister resigned as a sacrificial lamb.

Close on the heels of this event, a second blowup occurred when The Mainichi, a leading Japanese newspaper, published as sensationally as possible a statement by me that the American understanding of the agreement that there would be no "introduction into Japan" of nuclear weapons without prior consultation with the Japanese government did not include American ships making port calls or in transit through Japanese waters. The Mainichi failed to make clear that this comment had been made in passing in a broad background type of interview, given before the outburst over the word "alliance" and when everything seemed tranquil in Japanese-American relations. Nor did the paper or other news media that took up the cry make it clear that this so-called revelation had been made often before, been argued over by the Japanese public and then been dropped as a matter of common sense. Retired Rear Admiral Gene La Rocque had specifically stated in 1974 that American ships did not off-load nuclear weapons before entering Japanese waters, and I had myself described the situation with reference to the La Rocque statement in speeches and in a recent book.

That such a frenzy of political excitement should rise in Japan at this late day over two self-evident facts has naturally surprised Americans and most other peoples. I myself have preferred the word "partnership" to describe the extremely broad and mutually necessary relationship that has grown up between Japan and the United States, but no one could deny that a defense alliance has been part of this partnership for almost 30 years. And it is obviously impossible for American ships, which constitute a large part of the defense of Japan, to change their armaments each time they enter Japanese waters.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the disasters of the war and the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still so salient in Japanese minds that great circumspection was necessary in dealing with matters concerning a military alliance or nuclear weapons. It was natural in 1960 to have the agreement binding America and Japan together called the "Treaty of Mutual Security and Cooperation" and to handle the problem of nuclear weapons on American ships by simply avoiding mention of the subject. But in 1981, when Jmapanese and Americans engage in joint military maneuvers and the two countries rely heavily on each other, it is unhealthy and even dangerous for one side to shy away from the word "alliance" and for the American government and the Japanese public to have significantly different understandings of the meaning of the word "introduction" with reference to nuclear weapons.

It may have seemed convenient to the Japanese government to bridge the gap by adhering to the old double formula in which the American side neither affirmed nor denied the presence of nuclear weapons anywhere and the Japanese simply said that they trusted the United States. But insofar as these two statements covered over a deception, they are unworthy of the sort of relationship that has developed between Japan and the United States, and impair the growth of full trust between them.

America and Japan, because of their wealth of contacts, will always share a full plate of problems. One major and continuing problem will be over trade matters, as we grope toward a system maximizing free trade and minimizing political friction resulting from rapid increases of imports in sensitive areas of the economy. Japan's recent acceptance of voluntary restrictions on automobile exports is a case in point. Another problem is the recurrent American wish to have the Japanese speed up their defense buildup. On this, American efforts usually serve only to irritate the Japanese and cause them anxiety. It is probably wise to let Japan follow its own political instincts in what has proved to be a slow, but steady and significant increase in defense capabilities.

In addition, of course, there will always be smaller, accidental frictions between the two contries, as in the recent sinking of a Japanese cargo vessel by an American submarine and the cutting of Japanese fish nets by American ships on maneuvers with Japanese naval vessels. It was unfortunate that deep irritation over voluntary controls on cars and anxieties over American pressures for a Japanese military buildup, somewhat enhanced by these two recent accidents, had heightened political sensitivities in Japan just when the blowups occurred over the word "alliance" and the interpretation of "introduction." Without this unlucky bunching of explosive issues, only a mild reaction might have occurred to anyone of them alone.

What is to be learned from this painful incident? The American government must take stock again of the sensitivity of the Japanese about nuclear and defense matters. It should be sure that its skirts are indeed clean in its handling of nuclear matters with relation to Japan. It would also do well to soft-pedal its requests for a more rapid military buildup and accept a lower posture here as a trade-off for Japanese cooperativeness on economic matters. In addition, it should try to stay clear of controversy over these matters with Japan for the time being and allow the situation there to settle down gradually.

The Japanese government and people have even more to learn. Eventually, they must face frankly the choices before them. Either they can have an American defense alliance, or else they themselves will have to remilitarize on a massive scale. The Panacea of "unarmed neutrality," which seemed so attractive to them in the early post-war years, simply is not a viable option. Since almost no Japanese wants full remilitarization, a defense alliance with the Untied States is actually the only real possibility. This they must admit to themselves if they wish to enjoy the benefits of this alliance, which have been great, not least in aiding in Japan's tremendous economic surge forward. If such an alliance is to be effective, it cannot be emasculated by unrealistic restrictions on American naval vessels. I see no need for Japan to abandon its three nuclear principles of not making, possessing or introducing nuclear weapons. A clear and realistic understanding of what constitutes introduction will preserve all three fully and not degrade them to two and a half principles, as some Japanese maintain.

What will be the outcome of this present brouhaha in Japanese politics and Japanese-American relations little changed. Beyond that, it might help clear the atmosphere and cleanse Japanese-American relations of niggling suspicions and petty deceptions. The partnership is just too important to both countries to be allowed to be sullied in this way. Finally, it may help American and Japanese realize again that theirs is a relationship that needs careful attention and work. there is a big gap in cultural background, psychology, geography and historical experience between the two countries. We cannot afford to take each other for granted.