Washington's high-pressure tactics in trade talks with Tokyo appear to have created deep resentment in many Japanese officials, who contend their country is being made a scapegoat for a trade imbalance that is primarily the fault of the United States.
Emotions have reached the point where one official asked a colleague recently whether Washington planned to reopen "GHQ," the U.S. military general headquarters that ran Japan during the 1945-52 occupation.
President Reagan dispatched a personal envoy to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone in an effort to resolve the dispute. Details on Page D1.
Threats of retaliation in a U.S. Senate resolution passed Thursday particularly seem to have riled some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. They are said to be talking -- how seriously is unclear -- of ways that Japan might retaliate, too.
Those are unusual examples. But officials here now routinely talk of frustration in dealing with Americans. They say Washington should recognize that Tokyo is making serious concessions to open its market in an effort to reduce the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, which reached $37 billion last year.
Instead, said one Japanese involved in the talks, "U.S. congressmen and senators are shying away from factual details . . . they have no ears to listen."
"The perception is growing in the United States that the Japanese will not do anything unless they are beaten up," remarked another official. There is a danger that "antagonism will flare up at both ends, feeding on each other," he said.
In a speech to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan today, former ambassador to Washington Yoshio Okawara made a similar observation. "If the Japanese people feel the U.S. is asking too much and asking too fast, there could be serious consequences," he said.
Tokyo seems to have been unprepared for the vehemence of protests that greeted its decision to increase auto export quotas to 2.3 million units per year. "Perhaps the figure was conveyed with no precise explanation," said Masumi Esaki, chairman of a ruling party trade committee. Officials here contend it was meant as a concession -- without controls, exports would have reached 2.7 million, they say.
Many Japanese reporters saw it that way, too. At a press conference announcing the decision, questions centered on what heat Japan would take internationally for undermining free trade by continuing the restraints.
In the Japanese eye, the major causes of the mounting deficits are the strong dollar and alleged low product quality and marketing aggressiveness among American companies. Both of these are American, not Japanese problems, they argue, and little action has been taken on either.
U.S. officials, in fact, agree market access is not the major problem. Washington has estimated that even if all Japanese trade barriers came down, only about a third of the deficit would be wiped away. Still, the Japanese feel that the congressional furor suggests no understanding of this.
Following World War II, Japan used protectionism to aid in economic recovery. But as its industry matured, many of the overt controls were removed. The Japanese concede many controls remain but say many others will be eliminated, step by step, while a few, such as protection of rice farming, are sacrosanct.
But removal of controls does not mean automatically higher sales for foreign companies, they say. Success here requires years-long marketing commitment, good service and top product quality, which many U.S. companies are unable to deliver.
One Foreign Ministry official cites the case of the metal baseball bat, which until recently was all but barred from importation by a variety of formal barriers. U.S. negotiators selected it as a symbolic case and won removal of most of the barriers.
However, a Japanese company that imported 1,300 of the bats last year has so far sold fewer than 500. Bad marketing and low appeal to consumers have been blamed. Whatever the reason, the official said, removal of the official obstacles was not sufficient to do the trick.
Government leaders here also say that they cannot legislate Japanese away from buying Japanese products. "It's not because of preference for domestic goods. It's simply preference for quality goods," Okawara said today.
A few Japanese concede that a domestic company may form life-long ties with a supplier and turn down a foreign product even if if is superior. But loyalty of this type is often seen as an asset and a characteristic that distinguishes Japanese from western culture.
Many American trade representatives concede that some the buying habits are culturally ingrained. But they say that government regulations and bureaucrats often function to keep foreign products away from Japanese consumers.
Meanwhile, Japanese point to a variety of barriers to trade with the United States. The "Buy America" programs of many state and local governments discriminate against foreign suppliers. Different states have different auto standards. Tariffs protect many ailing industries.
Recent months' negotiations on the sale of foreign telecommunications equipment and services in Japan have underlined many of the differences in the U.S. and Japanese regulatory systems and negotiating style.
The talks were initiated by a vote in the Diet, or national legislature, last December to denationalize the government-owned monopoly Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corp. and open telecommunications to competition. Japan cast this as a major market-opening measure.
Trouble began when bureaucrats at the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications sat down to write the voluminous official regulations that would put the Diet's new laws into effect.
In the United States, the federal government is required to publish draft regulations and give anyone who chooses a chance to comment. Japan has no such formal system. Regulations are meant to be drafted by disinterested bureaucrats, drawing on recommendations from neutral advisory councils.
In practice, people and companies who want to get their views across do so through after-hours calls to school friends in the ministry, putting their district's elected representatives on the case, or issuing statements to the press. American companies, however, generally do not have such channels here.
U.S. negotiators flew to Tokyo and asked for drafts of the regulations. They were told none were available. Then how can we comment? they asked. Don't worry, the Japanese said, when the regulations are published, you'll see that there will be no discrimination.
Applying persistent pressure, the Americans got something that by some accounts they had never got before, an advance look at draft regulations. Even before other ministries had them, translators in the U.S. Embassy were working their way through piles of paper. Both sides tried to keep it a secret to avoid an outcry from other quarters of the Japanese government.
In negotiating sessions, U.S. negotiators worked to pin down the Japanese on differences. The Japanese, as usual, stressed generalities and areas of agreement.
On many questions, the Japanese refused to budge. But they gave ground on accepting foreign test data, on the functions and membership of a standards association and the amount of information companies registering to operate computer networks would have to submit.
During the talks, the Japanese also announced steps on computer software and imports of wood products, intended to smooth American fur. U.S. officials so far have dismissed most of what Japan has given as token.