TOKYO (AP) _ U.S. Ambassador Walter Mondale issued a swift apology to Japan today for an admiral's remarks about a schoolgirl's rape, but Japanese officials said they worried about repercussions in Okinawa, where anti-U.S. military sentiment is already high.

Adm. Richard C. Macke, commander of all U.S. military operations in the Pacific, agreed to early retirement Friday hours after saying of the servicemen accused of abducting and raping the 12-year-old: ``For the price they paid to rent the car, they could have had a girl.''

``The remarks are unforgivable,'' said Fumiko Maeda, head of the Okinawa chapter of the New Japan Women's Association. ``Each time we have swallowed our anger and sorrow, but we can't stand it anymore.''

The whole incident _ Macke's comment to reporters at breakfast, a storm of criticism in the United States, and the admiral being forced out _ occurred late Friday and early today, Japan time. So he had already made his exit by the time most people here heard about the comment.

Japanese officials, already putting a polite face on President Clinton's abrupt cancellation of his state visit because of budget woes, were initially silent, then incredulous.

Foreign Minister Yohei Kono ``can't believe what (Macke) said,'' the chief Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hiroshi Hashimoto, said in Osaka, where Japan is hosting a Pacific Rim economic summit.

Hashimoto said Mondale met Kono and explained that what the admiral said ``doesn't reflect the Clinton administration's position.

``I hope the Okinawans will understand that,'' Hashimoto said.

Although Macke also said the rape was ``terrible'' and ``never should have happened,'' activists said his comment about buying sex for the price of a rental car trivialized the brutality of the attack and showed disrespect and insensitivity.

Okinawan officials questioned whether the comments reflected a larger pattern.

``Considering his position as commander, what he said was very serious,'' said Okinawan prefectural spokesman Susumu Miyagi. ``Although he has already resigned to take responsibility, I hope this won't be repeated in the future.''

The timing of the incident could scarcely have been worse.

Japan had publicly expressed understanding over Clinton's need to stay home this weekend and deal with the budget deadlock, but the cancellation was seen as a setback to efforts to soothe feelings over the Okinawa case.

Clinton had planned to express sorrow over the girl's ordeal and underscore the importance of the U.S.-Japan security partnership.

The rape _ and simmering discontent over the heavy U.S. troop presence _ has set off massive protests on tiny Okinawa, where about 26,000 American soldiers are stationed. Nearly one-fifth of the island is under U.S. military control.

One of the three servicemen has pleaded guilty to the rape, while the other two have acknowledged helping to plan and carry it out. A ruling in their case is expected soon.

Macke, whose command area includes all of the Pacific and Indian Ocean, said the rape would not undermine the decades-old U.S.-Japan defense treaty. However, the issue has turned into a major political headache for Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama.

Okinawa Gov. Masahide Ota has proposed phasing out the U.S. military presence and is refusing to force owners of base land to continue leasing their property to the U.S. military. The prime minister may be forced to override the governor and renew the leases.