The atomic bomb "might be described as having saved Japan," the immediate past president of the Japan Medical Association says in an article being published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"I believe that the majority of Japanese people now agree" that the bomb, destructive as it was, saved the country from more war and mass starvation, adds Dr. Taro Takemi, a Tokyo physician.

Edwin O. Reischauer, former U.S. ambassador to Japan and one of this nation's leading authorities on Japan, said in an interview yesterday that he doubts that most Japanese are ready to agree, "but it's all quite true . . . . It makes very good sense . . . . It's something to have a Japanese saying this."

"I too ," Reischauer said, "thought dropping the bomb was a mistake at the time, but I have changed my mind" for the same reason.

Takemi, who was studying nuclear physics in Tokyo on Aug. 6, 1945, when the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, writes that "it was most regrettable that the bomb was used for war," and he casts doubt on the need for the second atomic bomb, dropped on Nagasaki.

Yet, he adds, "The military had driven Japan to a stage that if it could not win, it would not surrender. Japan surely would have lost the war, and many people would have starved if the atom bomb had not been dropped. When one considers the possibility that the Japanese military would have sacrificed the entire nation if it were not for the atomic bomb attack, then this bomb might be described as having saved Japan.

"This is what I currently think, although I did think differently at the time . . . . "

Reischauer, ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966, prominent for years as a military and State Department official and adviser and now a Harvard professor emeritus, said:

"The military would never have let the people surrender" had it not been for the bomb.

"The Japanese people would have had to go on fighting . . . , and there would have been an absolute massacre with attendant starvation. I feel certain that many millions of people would have died."

The Hiroshima bomb killed at least 71,000 Japanese. The bomb dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, killed a minimum of 39,000.

In his Journal article, Takemi tells how he and other scientists at the institute where he was studying surmised that the Hiroshima blast must have been nuclear.

He tells how he showed the data to "Count Makino," his wife's grandfather and a prewar opponent of the military, who "became gravely concerned and immediately asked for an audience with the emperor . . . . His Majesty listened to the count for one hour and 40 minutes and indicated his decision to accept the Potsdam Declaration," the Allied demand for a Japanese surrender. Research, Reischauer said, has shown that the Japanese government forced the decision on the emperor.

"The final decision," he said, "was made by six men," the army and navy ministers and chiefs of staff, the prime minister and the foreign minister, all but one--the foreign minister--active or retired military officers.

Only the prime minister, the navy minister and the foreign minister, the one civilian, voted for surrender, Reischauer said. So the emperor, who was willing to decide but considered himself a constitutional monarch "who had no right to make a decision unless he was asked to," cabled his decision to surrender to the Allies.