The dominant public image of Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki: an acknowledged expert on fishing problems, somewhat at sea on foreign affairs.
This, so the argument goes, has not proved too damaging up to now. The premier has been surrounded by a good Cabinet team to handle the difficult questions beyond his own expertise.
But that will not apply in Versailles, France. Mr. Suzuki is on his own with President Reagan and five Western European leaders at the economic summit.
At past summits, fumes a Japanese businessman, ''our representative has usually sat silent, contributing little to the meeting.'' But this time the general consensus is Suzuki will be fishing in troubled waters requiring all his skill to avoid being drowned. Somewhat wearily, Japanese officials expect attack for Tokyo's trade policies - despite last week's triumphant unveiling of a fresh package of trade and economic (market opening) measures to appease American and European critics.
The prime minister is being primed to steer the Versailles discussions away from the West's current economic woes toward wider, long-range concerns.
cc14p6 Japan, some officials argue, must rise above the trade squabbles that create an image of a ''back street bazaar shopkeeper haggling over pennies'' rather than the major economic power which it undoubtedly has become.
The desire is to portray Japan as a world statesmanlike country of vision. One proposal calls for an international body for joint research and development of high technology projects, to create more jobs and open up prospects for new industries - especially in less advanced countries.
The Japanese emphasis so far has been largely on economics and trade. This country, as many people readily admit, has played little part in resolving postwar political problems like Indochina or the Middle East. One current pressing political issue is likely to cause Suzuki some problems: the Falklands dispute.
So far, British requests for something stronger than Japan's willingness not to undermine anti-Argentine sanctions have been turned down on the grounds of Japan's trade and commercial links with Latin America .
At Versailles, officials believe Suzuki could face demands for a stronger line in view of Japan's status as a ''Western ally.'' But after Versailles and a speech to the UN Disarmament Conference, the prime minister is visiting Brazil and Peru where he can expect to show some sympathy for Argentina. Not to do so, some sections in Japan believe could damage the country's hopes to play an important North-South bridging role in creating a new world economic order.