From the very first day that President Reagan assumed office with his supposed mandate from the country's voters, the Japanese people have assumed that they should not expect too much from the former film star.
Because of Watergate and the lackluster performances of the Ford and Carter administrations, however, it was thought by the Japanese that the one- time California governor would surround himself with highly effective advisers and assistants.Hardly a month passed in the first few years of Mr. Reagan's presidency without Japanese political observers and editorial writers expressing surprise at the ability of President Reagan to handle the Democratic majority in the House and either force through his legislation or carry off his vetoes and maintain them.
Now, however, following the Iran-Contra affair and the administration's subsequent troubles with the Congress and the press, the Japanese are nodding their heads, congratulating themselves that their original assessment of the Reagan administration has proved correct.
Today, the feeling in Japan is that Mr. Reagan and his administration is coming apart at the seams and for the remaining months in office won't be able to meet the challenges of the nation's manifold problems - which will more or less have to be left to the Democrats in both the House and the Senate.
The growing belief in Japan right now is that both President Reagan and Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone have been in office too long. Both men, the argument goes, have been depending too much on their advisers and too heavily delegating power without paying attention to the consequences. In the case of Mr. Reagan, this led to the Iran-Contra scandal and in the case of Mr. Nakasone the ultimate result has been the serious threat posed by defections
from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party caused by the highly unpopular proposal for imposition of a value-added tax at the retail level.
Japanese political analysts stress that the two leaders have failed to consider what their general publics would and would not support, probably due to the fact that both men inthe past have received widespread and almost unprecedented support from their electorates.
It is quite common these days for the Japanese to point out the similarities of the two political leaders. From the very beginning the Japanese could not understand how a one-time film star could become president of the most powerful nation in the world. And it had never been expected that the political fortunes of Mr. Nakasone would lead to his premiership. His reputation within the party as a man who would swing like a weather vane to reflect the political winds at any given moment for years seemed to foreclose such a high-level post.
One aspect of the Japanese view of President Reagan's handling of the reins of power, which should come as no surprise to those who follow the political scene, is the lack of criticism of his age.
Age does not bother the Japanese. As Asians they tend to honor those who are in their seventies and eighties. In fact, many of Japan's political leaders are older than President Reagan, although it is not anticipated that those most likely to replace Prime Minister Nakasone at Japan's political helm will be as old as the former California governor was when he assumed office in Washington.
Nevertheless, in the view of Japanese political observers, it would be surprising if Mr. Reagan will be able during the remainder of his days in office to act as decisively as in the past.
The consensus in Tokyo, at least for the moment, is that it will prove impossible for President Reagan to reassert himself with even a semblance of his past vigor, especially if the Democrats can keep up the momentum shown in recent weeks and can make effective use in the next two years of their new strength in Congress.