Keisuke Honda's late goal put the brakes on Senegal's surge toward the last 16 of the World Cup and ensured Group H remains wide open.
After an impressive performance against Poland last week much of the buildup had centered upon the possibility of the Lions of Teranga emulating their feats of 2002, when they became just the third African nation to qualify for the World Cup quarterfinals.
Manager Aliou Cisse, who captained them sixteen years ago, called upon his players to "write their own history," saying he hoped they could do "at least as well" as his own generation.
While this is Senegal's first appearance World Cup since those halcyon days, Japan has since been nothing if not consistent, qualifying for the global showpiece on six consecutive occasions.
Both sides now have a chance of making the second round, but will have to wait until matchday three to book their berth, following an even and entertaining affair at the Ekaterinburg Arena.
Japan manager Akira Nishino admitted ahead of the game he'd given his players specific instructions to contain the threat of Sadio Mane, but it was the Liverpool forward who opened the scoring after just 11 minutes, capitalizing on an inexplicable punch from goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to tap home from inside the six yard box.
That goal, Mane's first of the tournament, was the result of Senegal playing with width and repeatedly sending both full backs forward.
But it was Japan left-back Yuto Nagatamo who made the next decisive contribution, picking it up on the overlap just past the half-hour mark and finding Takashi Inui. The Real Betis winger did the rest, curling a low effort past Khadim N'diane to draw Japan level against the run of play.
Buoyed by that goal, the Samarui Blue started the second half strongly -- striker Yuya Osako missing a gilt-edged opportunity after Gaku Shibasaki had rolled a cross invitingly into his path.
It was Senegal's impressive teenage full-back Moussa Wague who looked to have won it, though, sending a rasping shot into the roof of the Japan net with just 20 minutes to play.
Honda had other ideas, scoring his fourth career World Cup goal, becoming the first Asian player to find the net against teams from every continent.
The Japan midfielder is now the top-scoring Asian player in the history of the World Cup, and the only player to register a goal and an assist in each of the last three tournaments.
Poland vs Colombia
In the day's late fixture, Poland faced Colombia at the Kazan Arena with both sides knowing a defeat would see them crash out of Group H with a game remaining.
Neither had been at their best on matchday one, Colombia sustaining the second-quickest red card in World Cup history during defeat to Japan and the Poles succumbing to Senegal.
This, the first competitive meeting between the sides, was a chance for redemption.
It was Colombia that broke the deadlock and it was no surprise to see the returning James Rodriguez heavily involved.
The 2014 World Cup golden boot winner had only managed the final half an hour against Japan, but found the head of centre-back Yerry Mina with a inch-perfect cross after 40 minutes, following a corner straight from the training ground.
Poland barely threatened in a frenetic first half that was notable for a number of clattering challenges more than any clear-cut chances.
It was too much for veteran Colombia midfielder Abel Aguilar, who was carried off on a stretcher and replaced by Mateus Uribe after 32 minutes.
The Poles, eighth in the official FIFA World Rankings above the likes of Spain and England, had it all to do in the second half, but failed to mount a serious attack.
Instead it was the Colombians that doubled their lead with 70 minutes on the clock, Radamel Falcao nonchalantly sliding it past Wojciech Szczęsny to score his first ever World Cup goal.
His Polish counterpart Robert Lewandowski cut a lonely figure up front, barely getting a touch, let alone a clear-cut chance.
Minutes later it was three.
And this time tricky winger Juan Cuadrado got in on the act, receiving an incisive ball from Rodriguez on the run, opening up his body up and guiding it beyond Szczęsny with insouciant ease.
A speculative shot from Lewandowski drew an acrobatic save from David Ospina as the game reached its dying embers.
With a match against Japan to come, Poland's journey at the Russia 2018 has already effectively come to an end.
There's good news for the neutral, though: At the halfway stage of the Russia 2018 World Cup, there still hasn't been a single goalless draw...