American houses are a new status symbol in Japan, where Cape Cods and colonials are beginning to sprout up in the countryside as weekend retreats for apartment dwellers in Tokyo.

A New York company is shipping prefabricated houses in traditional early American designs to Japan and a California builder is exporting West Coast models to the Asian nation.Both companies are cashing in on the rising demand for made-in-America housing.

"Where we buy a European car, the Japanese buy an American house," said Michael Carusone, president of Northern Homes Inc., based in Glens Falls., N.Y. It recently clinched a three-year deal with a Japanese importer to supply nearly 200 houses.

"It is very trendy right now in Japan to own Western-style houses," said Ted Miller of Nector Pacific Homes, based in Capitola, Calif. The company shipped 50 houses to Japan in 1988 and 158 so far this year.

Nector Pacific also manufactures all the wooden parts for houses designed by Northern Homes for export to Japan under a licensing agreement with the New York builder.

Prestige is not the only driving force behind the built-in-America trend sweeping Japan.

The strong yen against the dollar has made American houses cheaper, the Japanese public finance corporation recently approved low-interest rate mortages for second homes and Japanese buyers have been captivated by the efficient U.S. construction process.

A recent liberalization of Japan's import policy also is a factor.