IF any single image decides Japan's forthcoming general election it could be the sight of gold bars and alleged untaxed millions being removed by public prosecutors from the home of the most powerful politician in the land. The politician was Shin Kanemaru who, in his late 70s, held no formal position in government, but was renowned as the ''Mr Fixit'' of Japanese factional politics. It was Kanemaru who took charge of disgraced former prime minister Noboru Takeshita's faction within the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), following the Recruit shares-for-favours scandal. As little as nine months ago, if anyone wanted something done, Kanemaru was the man to arrange it. Now it has become clear that Kanemaru's services came with fancy fees. Nothing, it seems, was done for free. Corruption and kick-backs have long been an open secret in Japanese politics. But the question that electors will answer at the polls is whether recently-surfaced public anger is deep-seated or a flash in the pan. Nothing better illustrates the LDP's concern over the role of so-called ''money politics'' in the current Japanese political crisis than the choice of the election date. The campaign kicks off on July 4 with voting taking place on July 18, creating an embarrassing clash with the Tokyo G7 summit, set for July 7-9. The election launch could have been postponed and polling day put off until July 25, but it would have fallen under the shadow of the Kanemaru trial which opens on July 22. The LDP is clearly worried that the first two days of that trial will add to the party's already diminished electoral prospects, and instead prefers to tarnish national prestige by holding the summit while the election is in full swing. This suggests the LDP expects even more sensational revelations to quickly emerge from the trial. It would come as no surprise if this were so. Kanemaru, among other things, will face charges of tax evasion, receiving illegal payments from a trucking empire linked to yakuza crime syndicates, and concealing donations from contractors. Clearly corruption has been getting out of hand. But the sudden switch in the public mood from cynical acceptance to shame and outrage has caught many people involved by surprise. The Kanemaru-Takeshita faction broke up as younger politicians resigned, either in disgust, or because they quickly adjusted to the public reaction. Maybe Kanemaru proved one scandal too many and offended the Japanese people's sense of national pride. From that point to Friday's collapse was a relatively simple progression. It is widely felt that Japan's electoral system is to blame for much of theunder-the-table dealing. The 130 multi-member seats being divided between 512 members of the House of Representatives inevitably results in LDP factions squaring off in battles for control of the three-, four-, and even five-seat constituencies. Such intra-party contests, inevitably involve huge amounts of money changing hands. A candidate may, for example, organise, even pay for, constituents to go on trips overseas, or offer other expensive goodies in exchange for their support on polling day. Before this money can go out, equally huge sums must come in. Change the system to single-member seats, the argument goes, and the LDP factions will have less reason to raise cash from corruption and spend so much money on infighting. At first, Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa saw the argument. He promised reform. Then, with the Diet session ending, Mr Miyazawa caved in to LDP conservative diehards. Rather than accept compromises with the opposition already worked out, top party officials insisted that reform could wait until 1995, when the LDP might be in a position to pass whatever reform measures it liked. This was like announcing to the world that the LDP would let corruption continue until it suited them. It was an incredibly bad misreading of the Japanese mood. The public, press and, in particular, some of the younger LDP politicians, were fed up and would not tolerate any more. These events are, of course, far from being the end of the story. The old electoral system remains intact. Corruption certainly will not disappear overnight. What is at work is a mood of national irritation but not necessarily an enduring revulsion based on moral outrage. Still, crucially, bright young politicians are seeing that advancement is likely to come to those who seek to end corruption and push for reform. Japanese political life will never be quite the same again. At the very least, politicians will be far more discreet about corruption and probably far less greedy. Corruption could influence the election result in one of several ways. It will not be easy for the opposition to say, in effect, vote for us or you may wake up on July 23 and regret it. The lack of moral outrage relates to the fact that many voters, particularly in the LDP-dominated rural areas, have got used to being bought. This being so, the LDP may opt for one more huge gamble on money-politics. The last general election, in 1990, saw vast sums spent as the LDP surprisingly shrugged off scandals to win what was, until last Friday, a comfortable majority. If they do, then the election results will clearly reflect how much the electorate rejects or tolerates corruption. But this may turn out to be a relatively clean election after all. It could well be that the huge funds the LDP would have used to buy the election are in the hands of the public prosecutors in charge of the Kanemaru case.