WHEN I visited Pearl Harbor some years ago, I was told that the USS Arizona, sunk by the Japanese with most of her sailors still aboard, had never been decommissioned as a United States battleship. Her hull is still visible under the white, ship-shaped memorial that bestrides her, and her flag is ceremonially raised and lowered every day.For all Americans, Pearl Harbor has an ongoing lesson: never again can they afford to be caught unprepared. It's a lesson that was at the core of US global attitudes during the 40 years of cold war with Moscow. But specifically in terms of US-Japanese relations, what are the lessons of Pearl Harbor? That the two nations could go to war again if they mismanage their ties? There has been a succession of books in this country charging that Japan is hellbent on world economic domination and that war is almost inevitable unless Tokyo changes course. On the Japanese side, the US is accused of racism and of making unreasonable demands on Japan when it is unable to put its own economic house in order. Unquestionably, irritations are high on both sides. The US still has a $40 billion trade deficit with Japan. And with the American economy in the doldrums, the congressional attitude toward Japanese cars and car parts, even those made in the US, is unforgiving. The Kremlin no longer serves the role of a common enemy to force the two fractious allies together. Americans sometimes accuse the Japanese of collective amnesia regarding the events that led up to Pearl Harbor - Japan's thrust into Manchuria and China, the alliance with Hitler and Mussolini, and the attempt to dominate the Asian continent. Some Japanese make Americans even angrier by claiming the war was forced on Japan and that the use of the atom bomb on Japan showed racism. F the lesson of Pearl Harbor for Americans was never to let down their guard, the equivalent lesson for the Japanese was that never again should the Japanese go to war. Pacifism is a new value in postwar Japan, and it remains politically powerful, enshrined in a constitution renouncing the right to go to war. So far this pacifism has been negative, defining what Japan will not do, not what it will do to preserve peace. Before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, both countries assumed that in a partnership, Washington would provide the military clout when needed, and Tokyo would back the effort economically. But the Gulf crisis made clear that without some commitment of blood as well as treasure, Japan cannot earn the respect of the global community. A new prime minister in Tokyo, Kiichi Miyazawa, and a new foreign minister, Michio Watanabe, are trying to redefine a world role for Japan and a new partnership with the US. Secretary of State James Baker will take the measure of both men when he reaches Tokyo Sunday during an Asian swing that will also take him to South Korea and China. Mr. Miyazawa, fluent in English, is a man of ideas but is cautious. Mr. Watanabe, earthy and flamboyant, speaks no English but has sure political instincts, though he angered Americans by insensitive remarks about African-Americans. They are an unlikely team, but represent the realities of Japanese politics. Both strongly uphold the US-Japan partnership. The traditional pattern of the partnership has been for Washington to propose, and Tokyo to say "yes" or "no." A right-wing politician made a bestseller out of his book, "The Japan that can say No." Miyazawa takes office, however, as the Japanese are beginning to see the need to take a more active role in the management of the global community. They see that pacifism must have a more active content, and that shared democratic values - suppressed in pre-Pearl Harbor Japan - must be defended and not merely enunciated. A Japan that, while listening to others, makes its own proposals and marshals all its powers of persuasion on their behalf - that would be something new on the world scene and a worthy g oal as the Pearl Harbor anniversary draws nigh.