TOKYO, SEPT. 28 -- North Korea, one of the last bastions of the Cold War, took a step toward rapprochement with the West today by signing a communique calling for negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations with Japan.

A week of meetings and receptions between government and political leaders of Japan and North Korea accomplished considerably more than either side had expected. Capitalist Japan and Communist North Korea, which has not forgotten Japan's seizure of the Korean Peninsula in 1910, each agreed to important demands from the other.

The surprisingly cordial meetings in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang got a big boost when 78-year-old Kim Il Sung, the only ruler North Korea has ever had and the longest-reigning dictator in the world, drank a toast with the Japanese visitors and expressed his personal wish for normalization of diplomatic relations. Despite rumors that he has been sick, Kim looked healthy in a videotape of the session.

Kim's apparent willingness to build a new relationship with Japan may suggest that North Korea is willing to move toward easing tensions with its arch-rival, South Korea. The two Koreas, which share the same language, culture and history, have been deeply suspicious enemies since the Korean Peninsula was divided by the Cold War superpowers just after World War II.

The shift in Pyongyang may also lead to resumption of some kind of relations between North Korea and the United States. In the past, North Korea has refused to recognize Japan and the United States. Since those two countries have recognized South Korea, the thinking went, to accept separate recognition for the North would be to accept the division of the peninusula into two countries.

But all those legal considerations seemed to disappear in the congenial atmosphere of the Pyongyang meetings this week.

In today's joint communique, signed at a reception in Pyongyang, the Japanese gave Kim a formal apology for the "unhappy past which Japan inflicted on Korea" and promised to start negotiations on financial compensation for Japan's three decades of colonial rule. The Japanese visitors also promised that their nation will eliminate the language in Japanese passports stating "this passport is valid for all countries and areas except North Korea."

Kim, in turn, gave the Japanese something they wanted badly: a promise that Pyongyang will release within a month two Japanese fisherman who have been imprisoned in North Korea since 1983. North Korea also said it would consider letting Japanese wives of North Korean men leave the country for the first time to visit their relatives in Japan.

Diplomats here expressed amazement at the progress of the meetings, which were extended from a scheduled three days to five because so many issues turned out to be negotiable.

"North Korea has relied on the U.S.S.R. and China to be its friends. Now Kim can see they're both talking to the South {Korea}," said a Western diplomat. "His allies in Eastern Europe all want to be Western democracies now. So Kim wants to strike some new alliances, too."

In today's communique, North Korea also agreed to allow direct air flights from Pyongyang to Tokyo and to permit occasional television broadcasts via satellite to Tokyo.