Japanese cars roll off the big ships in the harbor here like bees leaving a hive. They swarm off by the thousands, a seemingly endless parade of hatchbacks, station wagons, pickups and sedans.

Last year, 306,860 vehicles were unloaded -- almost 6,000 a week. No port in the world took in more Toyotas, no port in America more Hondas.

The Port of Portland estimates that these imports add about $62 milllion, or about $200 per car, to the local economy, providing jobs for hundreds of longshoremen, teamsters and railroad workers.

"We're not Detroit," said Richard A. Copeland, executive director of the Portland Grain Exchange. "The import car business is good for us."

The debate over retaliation against Japanese trade barriers makes people here nervous.

"My fear is the Japanese may retaliate against anything we do, and we may find ourselves in the middle of a trade war," said Douglas Frengle, who heads the international trade division of the Oregon Economic Development Department. "There have been a lot of positive things happening between Oregon and Japan. We don't want to do anything to endanger them."

With Oregon's timber and agriculture industries floundering, the state has placed its hopes for an economic recovery on expanding trade and attracting investment in its high-technology industry. It has opened an office in Tokyo and regularly sends delegations to Japan.

These efforts have begun to pay off. Four Japanese companies announced plans to build plants in Oregon's "Silicon Forest" last year; a 13-part series, "From Oregon With Love," ran on Japanese television during the winter. The plants are projected to employ 7,100, and officials hope the TV series will increase tourism.

Oregonians are free-traders. "Anything that smacks of protectionism is suspect here," said Daniel Goldy, an economist who once headed the state economic development office. "The Mondale-Ferraro domestic-content bill went over like a lead balloon here."

It is a case of pure economic self-interest. One job in 10 in the Portland area depends on international trade; 43 percent of the area's trade is with the Japanese.

"If you pull the average guy off the street in this country, he'll say, 'Screw the Japanese,' " said G. Johnny Parks, northwest region director of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union. "But the longshoreman here says, 'What the hell, let's keep the ships unloading.' We don't care if they're coming or going."

Even among those who support controls on foreign imports there is ambivalence. Foreign cars are far more popular here than elsewhere, and the United Auto Workers union has only a small presence. Dennis Schmidling, bargaining committee chairman at one UAW unit here, drives his wife's Toyota; Bill Vachter, the local's political director, owns a Porsche.

Portland, a city of 371,000 with a spectacular view of snowcapped Mount Hood, lies at the confluence of the Willamette and Columbia rivers, about 110 miles from the Pacific Ocean.

It has been a major port since the 1870s, but Oregon's ties to the Far East date from 1811, when John Jacob Astor's partners founded the state's first settlement, Astoria, at the mouth of the Columbia River to obtain control over the flourishing fur trade with China.

"It's our history, our legacy," said Gary L. Conkling, manager of government relations for Tektronix Inc., a large high-tech firm. "We are here today because Astor thought Oregon would be a great place to trade with the Chinese. The names have changed over the years, but we're still looking across the Pacific."

One finds plaid-shirted Oregon lumberjacks shouting out measurements in Japanese. One company processes french fries from Oregon potatoes for Japanese consumption; another sells popcorn to Japan.

"We have some of the same frustrations with the Japanese as the rest of the country, but our frustrations are more realistic, more precise," Conkling said. "You don't find many people here ready to pull out the blunderbuss and fire a few shots."

But even here, mixed emotions about the Japanese and self-interest sometimes divide families.

Bill Carroll Jr., for example, is a UAW member at the General Motors parts plant. "I feel government and big business are undermining the American worker by not putting restraints on importing Japanese cars," he said. "Then we were almost forced to buy those cars because they're cheaper and more fuel-efficient."

His father, Bill Carroll Sr., is a longshoreman. Much of his income comes from unloading Toyotas, Hondas and Subarus at terminals along the Willamette River.

James Manning, director of an international trade institute at Portland State University, said he saw several warning signs for Oregon on the trading horizon. Unless trade barriers are eased and the strong dollar weakens, the state will suffer, he said.

"The Japanese have cut back on their grain and timber purchases. These are our two biggest industries, and they're both depressed," Manning said. "If this continues, it's going to be very difficult for us to recapture these markets. The Japanese are good businessmen and they drive a hard bargain. Unless we're careful, they're going to be buying their lumber from the Soviets, Brazil and New Zealand and their wheat from Argentina and Australia."

"We're a trading state, but many of the Oregon traders aren't moving Oregon products," he added. "They're buying butter and dairy products from Denmark, trading it for peas and lentils in South America. Then they trade the peas and lentils to the Japanese for electronic goods which they bring back into this country."