Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr., voicing concern over "the impression that the Japanese were buying up the whole United States," said yesterday he will try to prevent Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. from keeping valuable commercial facilities it acquired inside Yosemite National Park when it bought MCA Inc.

Lujan said in an interview that he has asked department lawyers to see whether the National Park Service can cancel its contract with Yosemite Park Curry Co., the profitable park concessionaire and MCA subsidiary that now belongs to Matsushita. Interior would then find an American operator for Yosemite's lucrative hotels, restaurants, groceries and campgrounds, Lujan said.

"Happy New Year! A Japanese company now owns exclusive rights to do business in Yosemite," Lujan said sarcastically. "Everywhere I go, people are not happy with foreign ownership of these . . . resources."

It was unclear yesterday whether Interior has authority to cancel the contract. Interior officials acknowledged that by publicly raising the issue of Japanese ownership, they hope to pressure Matsushita into acceding to an earlier Lujan proposal -- that the company simply give the park service its Yosemite properties, valued at up to $300 million.

"It's sort of a matter of who's going to blink first," one official said.

MCA representatives said yesterday that the company plans to sell its Yosemite concession to an American buyer within 12 months, but ruled out the idea of a donation.

MCA officials have said they agree that Curry Co. should remain in U.S. hands and that they intend to put it in escrow for 12 months until a buyer can be found. In the meantime, Curry Co.'s profits would be channeled back to the park through the National Park Foundation, a private nonprofit group.

Lujan's comments are the latest salvo in a costly public relations battle over Matsushita's $7.5 billion purchase of the American entertainment giant, the largest Japanese acquisition of a U.S. company.

Sensitive to concerns about the transfer of U.S. cultural assets to foreign owners, Matsushita employed a phalanx of high-powered lobbyists and public relations specialists to smooth the deal, among them former Senate majority leader Howard H. Baker Jr. and former Democratic Party chairman Robert S. Strauss.

In general, the effort appears to have been successful.

The purchase was formally consummated Saturday, following assurances by Matsushita publicists that MCA's video and movie empire would retain its "creative independence."

But the question of Yosemite Park Curry Co. has proved more difficult to resolve. Although the Yosemite concession is but a fraction of MCA's overall value, its link to one the nation's premier natural attractions gives it special significance.

In addition, Curry Co.'s 30-year contract with the park service, up for renewal in 1993, is an especially sweet deal: The largest concessionaire in the 125 national parks, the company returns just 75 cents to the government on every $100 in gross receipts, an amount that Lujan has described as ludicrously low.

As contracts come up for renewal at Yosemite and elsewhere, Lujan hopes to renegotiate concession terms and encourage competition, with the aim of returning higher profits to taxpayers. But because concessionaires have built up huge investments in hotels, restaurants and other properties, they normally cannot be dislodged without costly buyouts.

A donation by MCA of its Yosemite properties, Lujan wrote the company last month, would be "a dramatic gesture . . . in the best interests of the public."

But MCA said it was unrealistic for Lujan to expect a publicly held company to donate properties valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars simply in the interest of public relations. "It is by no means the equivalent of a company donating a few hundred thousand dollars to the March of Dimes," said an MCA adviser who asked not to be identified.

MCA officials noted yesterday that the Park Service had publicly endorsed the escrow proposal in a Nov. 26 news release. Lujan's remarks "would appear to be a series of actions calculated to apply pressure on MCA to basically hand . . . over" the Yosemite concession, the adviser said.

An Interior spokesman described the Park Service endorsement as "our public position while we continued to press MCA to donate its {equity} interest. We wanted to laud them for their efforts up to that point."

In his comments yesterday, the normally low-key interior secretary expressed anger at the "arrogance" of Matsushita, saying Baker and Strauss initially proposed the donation themselves. "Then they backed away from that," Lujan said. "They said, 'We're going to go ahead with this, we don't care if you approve it or not.' . . . They were getting paid to close the deal."

Interior officials said Matsushita should have waited until questions about the Yosemite concession had been resolved before concluding the purchase. Lujan said that in their rush to complete the deal, Baker and Strauss were "thumbing their nose" at the Park Service contract.

Neither Baker nor Strauss could be reached for comment yesterday. The MCA adviser said that while the two had initially raised the idea of a donation, they did so "only as a possibility and there was never an offer. . . . It had not at that point even been discussed with Matsushita."

Lujan said he remains concerned about foreign investment. "I will not buy a Japanese car or a foreign car," he said. "I don't think it does any good to siphon our money overseas.