TOKYO (AP) _ Sales of Jeep Cherokees rose 400 percent at one Tokyo dealership last year _ from 3 vehicles to 12.

Almost imperceptibly to the average consumer, foreign vehicle sales are making inroads into the Japanese auto market.

As the Clinton administration announces tougher action to force open the Japanese auto market, some foreign auto dealers worry that an all-out trade war could harm their ongoing campaign to win the hearts and minds of Japanese car buyers.

``If the product is good and the price is right, you can do better and better selling imported cars in Japan these days,'' said Kaz Saitoh, a spokesman for Yanse and Co., Japan's largest car importer and dealer.

``Personally, I don't think what (the trade negotiators) are doing is so great,'' he said.

Though actual sales are small, foreign auto sales have been the only growth area in a stagnant Japanese auto market.

Gradually, Japanese automakers are allowing dealers to give showroom floor space to American vehicles. Honda sells Jeep Cherokees; Toyota sells some Fords.

Ford also has established a small dealership network of its own, but it doesn't begin to rival the more than 800 Honda dealerships in Japan.

At a Tokyo Honda dealership, a metallic-green Jeep Cherokee shares a brick riser with a comparable Honda utility vehicle, the Odyssey, under the dealership sign. Cherokee sales there rose significantly last year.

And salesman Yukitoshi Okamoto says sales have great potential to take off as Japanese consumers gain trust in American autos.

``When we first had them, I was quite worried about trouble and the quality, and of course the customers worried too.'' Okamoto said. ``But since the quality has gotten better, they are easier to sell.''

Prices of U.S. autos also have dropped as the value of the yen as risen _ though Japanese cars are still generally less expensive. The price of Ford Explorer XLT, for example, fell from 5.24 million yen in 1992 to 3.595 million yen this year _ while the dollar price tag stayed a consistent $42,000.

Japanese buyers have been turned off to U.S. cars because they were too big, used too much gas, weren't built to the Japanese standard of a steering wheel on the right and parts were hard to come by.

Foreign dealerships also didn't take the same responsibility for follow-up service as Japanese delears, who will go as far as visiting customers at home to see how the car is doing.

In recent years, though, American automakers have been doing a better job adapting to Japanese tastes, with results.

Since 1993, Chrysler's Cherokee Jeeps have been sold in Japan with the steering wheel on the right side. Ford has been shipping right-hand drive cars to Japan and promises that by the year 2000 all of its cars will be available with that option.

The result is beginning to show in sales figures.

Last year, sales of foreign autos in Japan rose 46 percent to a record 301,000 vehicles, according to the Japan Automobile Importers Association.

The U.S. ``Big Three'' _ Chrysler, Ford and General Motors _ captured just 1 percent of the Japanese market last year, but that's nearly double their share a year earlier.

All foreign car sales comprised 4.4 percent of the 3.4 million passenger vehicles sold in Japan last year. By contrast, Japanese brand cars capture a 22 percent share of the U.S. market, the imbalance accounting for one-third of the record $66 billion U.S. trade deficit with Japan.