THE scene outside Mr Raymond Yip's Tokyo office is one of organised chaos, with racks of designer clothes competing for space around his staff's crowded desk tops. Piles of cardboard boxes packed with the latest outpourings from the Hongkong Trade Development Council's Design Gallery in Wan Chai add to the clutter as final preparations are made for the latest display of the territory's goods in Japan. The showcase opens today in the Seibu department store on the edge of the upmarket Ginza shopping district with a host of show business celebrities joining up with trade officials for the opening ceremony. Calling on the services of movie star Chow Yun-fatt, singer Sandy Lam and Miss Hongkong Emily Lo Suk-yee, the TDC hopes the promotion will help to make another dent in the massive visible trade imbalance that has developed between the territory and Japan. The immediate impact is likely to be negligible, simply because the trade gap is so huge. Deficits of US$7.4 billion in 1989, $8.6 billion in 1990 and $11 billion in 1991 were topped off by a negative balance of $15.1 billion last year - the single largest deficit that Hongkong had with any country. And Japan remains one of Hongkong's most important trade partners. The latest trade figures place it as the fourth largest combined export market, in second place as a source of imports and, overall, as the territory's third largest trade partner. Mr Yip, senior director of the TDC's operations in Japan since August 1991, is not overawed by the scale of the challenge. As the man in charge of leading the territory's export drive in what is reputed to be one of the world's most difficult markets to crack, he believes more Hongkong companies should at least consider the long term potential of sales to Asia's most prosperous country. ''As everybody knows, or at least believes, it is a difficult market,'' he concedes. ''Yes, it is difficult. But it's not impossible.'' He points out that by international standards, Japan's tariffs are not high. The more difficult barriers to overcome are mostly ''invisible'', with the limited use of English by Japanese traders as a starting point. The complicated distribution system with a need for ''connections'' to help exporters through the mass of layers is another problem, and one of such a magnitude that orders do not necessarily go to those simply offering the lowest price. Combine that with the obsessive attitude of both the national authorities and consumers towards quality standards and the need for even the most experienced of exporters to display the greatest amount of patience when attempting to secure contracts from Japanese customers for the first time, and there is just an idea of the daunting task that lies ahead. But some companies are meeting success, and Japan overtook Germany as the third largest market for Hongkong's re-exports in 1992. In terms of domestic exports, it ranked fourth with a total of $1.41 billion worth of sales. Mr Yip is quick to point out that the territory has been remarkably successful in exploiting some niche markets too. Hongkong is now the largest overseas supplier of fur garments - still popular in Japan despite the animal rights lobby - and, as of 1992, the leading source of foreign-made jewellery. Hongkong is also the second largest overseas supplier of watches and clocks, the fifth largest source of garments and the sixth largest source of imported toys. ''We have a few goodies,'' boasts Mr Yip with some pride, despite the fact that Hongkong's trade deficit with Japan last year was almost four times larger than the overall deficit of just under $4 billion. ''Of course everybody is concerned about the deficit, but Hongkong depends on trade. We have to buy before we can sell. ''That's why our philosophy is not to try to reduce Japanese exports but to try to get them to increase their imports from us.'' The TDC efforts, spearheaded from its Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya offices, are aimed at both Japanese traders and consumers. The Seibu showcase, launched today by TDC chairman Victor Fung, is part of the drive to persuade more Japanese shoppers to buy Hongkong-made goods. Not that they need much persuading, in an economy shocked by the sudden onslaught of recession in the 1990s. ''We are seeing a change in Japanese preferences,'' says Mr Yip. ''Instead of going for designer labels and European designer products, they are looking for quality goods which offer more value-for-money. ''Hongkong can provide them with that quality at a fraction of the prices charged by the Americans or Europeans.'' He points to the 46 per cent surge in garments re-exported through Hongkong last year as evidence of the growing interest by the belt-tightening Japanese consumers. Together with domestic exports, garment sales to Japan climbed to $1.7 billion and retained the title of being the single most popular commodity. Their popularity has come on all fronts. Hongkong designers such as Walter Ma, Eddie Lau and William Tang have their own following; others like Maria Yang have the honour of being granted their own counters in leading department stores. But many smaller manufacturers have begun to break through the barriers and even mass retailers like Giordano have launched outlets in the capital. With the yen continuing to strengthen against the US dollar - much of last year's improvement was achieved when the exchange rate hovered around 130 - there are grounds for further export growth in 1993. ''It all fits in with the general Hongkong work philosophy,'' says Mr Yip. ''Success doesn't come by accident here. People have to work hard in their efforts to diversify their markets.'' But with a number of forecasters looking to some recovery in the Japanese economy towards the end of this year, can Hongkong's exporters hold on to the bridgehead forged in more difficult circumstances? Is there not a danger that the Italian handbags, British raincoats and French scarves will make a comeback in the Ginza's retail palaces? ''On the contrary, I think Hongkong will benefit as even more consumers get converted,'' says Mr Yip. ''Japanese consumers are very brand loyal. Once they find a product that meets their standards, they stick to it. ''The challenge now is to find other sectors where Hongkong can break in. Footwear and leather goods are strong candidates, but we are also looking at areas such as food products, furniture and optical products. ''The case of Lee Kum Kee is a classic example of what can be achieved. Their oyster sauce is doing very well in Japan now, but it must have taken them a long time to get there. ''It must have taken a lot of research and patience, but they have adapted their product so that it satisfies both Japanese tastes and style. It has been 'Japanicised'. ''You need to make that sort of commitment to succeed here.''