Twelve months earlier James Hunt had secured the world championship with third place in a nail- biting end to the season. A year on and he won the final race in Japan, but with the title already Niki Lauda's it was a slightly hollow victory.
Lauda, as he had done in Canada, stayed away, officially because of a gastric problem but in reality after his acrimonious departure from Ferrari, while Renault and Copersucar also opted to miss the season finale. That only 20 regulars made the trip at least allowed some local drivers their moment of glory.
The weekend was marred by an accident on the sixth lap when a race official and a spectator were killed and eight others injured. Gilles Villeneuve tried to pass the six-wheeled Tyrrell of Ronnie Peterson and the cars collided. The disintegrating Ferrari was sent airborne into an area where spectators had strayed, hitting them and a marshal who was trying to move them back behind the safety fencing.
It was the second accident of the day. On lap 2, Mario Andretti, who was second at the time, clipped Jacques Laffite's Ligier and in turn hit Hans Binder's Surtees. Local driver Noritake Takahara in turn piled into the other cars, but fortunately nobody was hurt.
Hunt, meanwhile, was never troubled and eased home a minute clear of Carlos Reutemann who capitalised on Laffite running out of fuel on the penultimate lap. Patrick Depailler was third for Tyrrell, his second successive podium finish in what was the final outing for the six wheeler.
Hunt was yet again embroiled in controversy when he refused to attend the presentations, opting instead to head to the airport within minutes of the finish to catch a flight to London. Organisers were livid, claiming he was sulking after police refused to guarantee him an escort through Tokyo.