Hotaru Yamaguchi's first goal for Japan ensured South Korea had to settle for a 1-1 draw in Wednesday's East Asian Cup clash at the Wuhan Sports Center Stadium.
Cerezo Osaka midfielder Yamaguchi equalised with a fine strike six minutes before half-time as Japan got up and running in the tournament after suffering a 2-1 defeat to North Korea in their opening match on Sunday.
Jang Hyun-soo had also opened his account at international level from the penalty spot to put South Korea in front after Masato Morishige handled in the area.
Japan coach Vahid Halilhodzic urged his side to show some pride following their loss at the weekend and, although they avoided defeat, South Korea were unfortunate not to make it two wins out of two when Lee Jae-sung's header struck the crossbar.
South Korea are top of the table on four points, but could be replaced by North Korea later in the day as they prepare to take on hosts China.
Uli Stielike's South Korea side came into the game on the back of a 2-0 win over China that stretched their winning run to four games and they were deservedly in front 27 minutes in.
Morishige was adjudged to have intentionally handled and Jang held his nerve to slot home the resulting spot-kick to inflict more misery on Japan.
Halilhodzic's men hit back, though, and Yamaguchi let fly with a crisp strike from 20 yards out that found the far corner of the net after Shu Kurata laid the ball into his path.
South Korea had the better of the second half but were unable to fashion a winner, with Lee's header coming back off the woodwork before Lee Yong-jae volleyed the rebound over to ensure both sides claimed a point apiece.
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