Championship leader Lewis Hamilton achieved his 80th career pole position in Formula 1 with the fastest lap time at Suzuka, while title rival Sebastian Vettel ended up ninth after a failed intermediate tyre gamble.
Hamilton hit the front on the supersofts Pirelli on the first runs in Q3, lapping 0.229 seconds faster than his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
That lap of one minute, 27.760 seconds proved to be fast enough to secure pole position given rain that hit the track in the middle of the session.
Both Mercedes drivers will start on the soft compound Pirellis, having used them to set their Q2 times.
Ferrari drivers Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, meanwhile, were sent out on intermediates at the start of Q3 in anticipation of the rain coming earlier.
Both were forced to abort their runs to take on slicks, meaning their first flying laps came just as rain was on the cusp of falling, and while Raikkonen was able to post a one minute, 29.521 seconds to secure fourth behind Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, Vettel ran off the track at Spoon Curve after the rear stepped out and posted only a one minute, 32.192 seconds.
For good measure, Vettel later went off through the gravel at Degner 1 while cruising on slicks in the intensifying rain.
This allowed Haas driver Romain Grosjean, who will be the only driver in the midfield group in the top ten to start on softs having brilliantly used the tyre to set his Q2 time, to take ‘Class B’ pole position in fifth.
His Q3 lap put him just over two-tenths faster than Toro Rosso driver Brendon Hartley.
The Honda-powered team had set a target of having both cars in Q3 after using its ‘Spec 3’ engine for qualifying for the first time, and Hartley slotted in ahead of team-mate Pierre Gasly in seventh.
Racing Point Force India duo Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez were eighth and tenth, sandwiching Vettel’s Ferrari.
Perez also did not set a serious time, lapping 9.5 seconds off the pace, having aborted his lap on his first run.
Sauber driver Charles Leclerc was the quickest of those eliminated in Q2, in which rain meant the first-run times decided the order.
Leclerc was P11 after his first run, but attempted to complete a lap on his second set of supersofts in the forlorn hope of breaking into the top ten before spinning exiting Degner 1.
Haas driver Kevin Magnussen was 12th fastest having used softs on his first run and lapping 0.548 seconds slower than Grosjean in Q2 on the same compound.
Carlos Sainz Jr was P13 for Renault ahead of Williams driver Lance Stroll. Daniel Ricciardo was P15 after failing to set a time in Q2, cruising into the pits at the end of his outlap with what appeared to be an engine problem.
Renault driver Nico Hulkenberg was eliminated in Q1, having had his first run compromised by a red flag caused by Marcus Ericsson crashing in Turn 7.
The Swede ran wide onto the grass through the left-hander then spun into the barrier on his second push lap, leading to a six-minute red flag.
Hulkenberg was, along with team-mate Sainz and Perez, one of three drivers not to have set a time at that point, and after going out immediately after the restart was relegated into the dropzone by a flurry of improvements as Q1 was chequered flagged.
Sainz was the driver whose improvement actually relegated Hulkenberg into the bottom five, with the German ending up just 0.044 seconds slower than Stroll ahead.
Sergey Sirotkin was P17, just 0.011 seconds slower than Hulkenberg, with McLaren’s Fernando Alonso P18 on his first taste of the fastest supersoft Pirellis of the weekend.
Team-mate Stoffel Vandoorne was P19 having had to use soft rubber for his first run before moving onto supersofts, putting him ahead only of Ericsson.
So an excellent team effort for Mercedes with a front row grid slot at Suzuka. Congratulations to Lewis Hamilton in achieving pole position. This is looking so good for Hamilton considering championship rival Vettel is eight places behind. The 2018 title is within Hamilton’s gasp. Roll on race day.
Japanese Grand Prix, qualifying result:
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1m27.760s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1m28.059s
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Renault 1m29.057s
4 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 1m29.521s
5 Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 1m29.761s
6 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso-Honda 1m30.023s
7 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso-Honda 1m30.093s
8 Esteban Ocon Force India-Mercedes 1m30.126s
9 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1m32.192s
10 Sergio Perez Force India-Mercedes 1m37.229s
11 Charles Leclerc Sauber-Ferrari 1m29.864s
12 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 1m30.226s
13 Carlos Sainz Renault 1m30.490s
14 Lance Stroll Williams-Mercedes 1m30.714s
15 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull-Renault –
16 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1m30.361s
17 Sergey Sirotkin Williams-Mercedes 1m30.372s
18 Fernando Alonso McLaren-Renault 1m30.573s
19 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren-Renault 1m31.041s
20 Marcus Ericsson Sauber-Ferrari 1m31.213s