Japan led 1-0 at halftime at the Itaipava Arena Pernambuco thanks to Keisuke Honda but Ivory Coast claimed victory with two goals in as many minutes just after the hour mark.
Fullback Serge Aurier created both goals with impressive crosses from the right with Wilfried Bony and Gervinho taking advantage, although the latter benefited from poor goalkeeping from Japan’s Eiji Kawashima.
Saturday’s game was the first time Ivory Coast has won its opening fixture at a FIFA World Cup as the African nation looks to claim a maiden berth in the knockout stages in its third consecutive appearance at the global tournament.
The shock in the two starting lineups was the absence of captain Didier Drogba from Ivory Coast’s XI, after he failed to recover from a thigh strain suffered at training on Wednesday.
Bony took Drogba’s spot up front, while coach Sabri Lamouchi made two other changes to the XI that began Ivory Coast’s 2-1 win over El Salvador with Kolo Toure – who had struggled with malaria before the tournament – and Max Gradel being replaced by Didier Zokora and Yaya Toure.