Tokyo — Japan and the United States are at odds again - and, for once, it is the Japanese who can claim to be the aggrieved party.
Added to continued trade friction is Japanese irritation at the Reagan administration's decision to strengthen a ban on sales of American gas and oil drilling equipment to the Soviet Union.
This step places at risk a joint Japan-Soviet oil and natural gas exploration project on the continental shelf off Sakhalin.
Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki made a strong plea for a lifting of the ban when he met President Reagan at the Versailles economic summit earlier this month. There is evidence of considerable anger in Tokyo that Japan's interests have been ignored.
Some government officials are openly grumbling that, as one put it, ''Reagan is more intent on scoring points off the Soviet Union than in considering the needs of America's allies.''
There is also concern here that the entire Western alliance could be hurt by the US action - an event that would definitely not be in Japan's interests.
In a meeting with US Ambassador Mike Mansfield June 18, Shintaro Abe, minister of international trade and industry, warned that an American failure to lift the ban could strain bilateral relations.
The Sakhalin project, he said, was vital for Japan in view of its almost complete lack of natural resources and need to import most of its oil from the volatile Middle East.
Government sources said there had been an intense lobbying effort before President Reagan's announcement to persuade him to make this one exemption. ''The US ban represents sanctions against Japan rather than against the Soviet Union,'' one official complained.
Ichiro Fujiwara, vice-minister of international trade and industry, told reporters June 21 the government would lodge a very ''strong protest'' with the US.
Ministry officials point out that the Sakhalin project was begun in 1976, long before the Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan and the imposition of martial law in Poland.
Sakhalin Oil Development Cooperation Company, the Tokyo-based state policy concern, has already sunk 30 test wells with the Soviets on the continental shelf and has reported the existence of large commercially viable deposits of oil and natural gas.
The Soviets turned to Japan for help because of its technical know-how and investment capability, as well as being a natural major market for the end product. The original agreement called for this country to take delivery of 50 percent of the oil produced from 1986 and 3 million tons of natural gas a year from 1988. Both contracts were for 20 years.
There are signs Japan might try to break ranks with the US over this issue. Foreign Minister Yoshio Sakurauchi has hinted at talks with the Soviet Union about how to continue the project. And within the Ministry of International Trade and Industry there is also talk of how Japan could keep the project alive.
Procurement of equipment from other sources, including the Soviet Union, is reportedly being examined. Sadao Kobayashi, president of the Sakhalin Oil Development Cooperation Company, is scheduled to fly to Moscow shortly for consultations on the project's future.