Norbert Michelisz claimed his first pole of the season to give Honda a front-row start at its home World Touring Car Championship event at Suzuka.
The Hungarian shot to the top of the timesheets with the weekend's first sub-53s lap, and then watched as his main rivals either fell short or committed errors while trying to depose him.
Alex MacDowall proved to be Zengo driver Michelisz's nearest challenger, moving his Bamboo Chevrolet onto a share of the front row minutes from the end of qualifying.
Others were still on fast laps however, including champion elect Yvan Muller and works Honda pair Gabriele Tarquini and Tiago Monteiro.
All three were undone by errors: Muller went too deep into Turn 1 and had to save a lurid sideways moment; Tarquini ran off and through the gravel at Turn 3, while Monteiro followed up a new overall best in the first sector by surrendering seven seconds in the middle split.
Sonoma race-winner Tom Chilton therefore held onto third ahead of Muller, with James Nash leaping Monteiro for fifth.
Pepe Oriola meanwhile will share the fourth row with Tarquini.
Mehdi Bennani captured reverse-grid pole courtesy of qualifying 10th, fractions behind fellow BMW man Tom Coronel.
Rob Huff and James Thompson just made it through to Q2, but were unable to crack the top 10 - Huff missing out by just 0.069s - and will therefore share the sixth row for both races.
Huff had been on the brink of a Q1 exit, but was ultimately able to seal his progress by just two hundredths of a second.
Charles Ng was the man who came closest to denying Huff, although Marc Basseng, Takuya Izawa and Fernando Monje all came within two tenths of making it through to the pole shootout.
Izawa was best of the newcomers in 15th, but Nika's Hiroki Yoshimoto could have denied him the honour but for mistakes on successive quick laps.
Pos Driver Team/Car Time Gap 1. Norbert Michelisz Zengo Honda 52.886s 2. Alex MacDowall Bamboo Chevrolet 53.011s +0.125s 3. Tom Chilton RML Chevrolet 53.101s +0.215s 4. Yvan Muller RML Chevrolet 53.119s +0.233s 5. James Nash Bamboo Chevrolet 53.125s +0.239s 6. Tiago Monteiro Honda 53.365s +0.479s 7. Pepe Oriola Tuenti Chevrolet 53.365s +0.479s 8. Gabriele Tarquini Honda 53.379s +0.493s 9. Tom Coronel ROAL BMW 53.432s +0.546s 10. Mehdi Bennani Proteam BMW 53.466s +0.580s 11. Rob Huff Munnich SEAT 53.535s +0.649s 12. James Thompson Lada 53.648s +0.762s 13. Charles Ng Engstler BMW 53.733s Q1 14. Marc Basseng Munnich SEAT 53.812s Q1 15. Takuya Izawa Honda 53.827s Q1 16. Fernando Monje Campos SEAT 53.870s Q1 17. Hiroki Yoshimoto Nika Chevrolet 53.986s Q1 18. Stefano D'Aste PB BMW 53.991s Q1 19. Darryl O'Young ROAL BMW 54.027s Q1 20. Rene Munnich Munnich SEAT 54.158s Q1 21. Masaki Kano Engstler BMW 54.263s Q1 22. Mikhail Kozlovskiy Lada 54.292s Q1 23. Tom Boardman Special Tuning SEAT 54.395s Q1 24. Yukinori Taniguchi Wiechers BMW 54.471s Q1 25. Jeronimo Badaraco Son Veng Chevrolet 55.257s Q1 26. Henry Ho Engstler BMW 55.611s Q1 27. Filipe de Souza China Dragon Chevrolet 55.672s Q1 28. Kin Veng Ng China Dragon Chevrolet 56.103s Q1 29. Ka Lok Mak RPM BMW 56.478s Q1