Norio Sasaki’s side weathered a bright start from their opponents and took a first-half lead through Yuki Ogimi, and sealed their berth among the competition’s final four when Shinobu Ohno struck in the second half.
Two of the heavyweights of the women’s game traded blows throughout an entertaining first half which the Brazilians dominated during the opening 20 minutes.
It was the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup champions who could have taken the lead within seconds of kick-off, though. Ohno latched onto a weak clearance and sent a delicious half-volley towards goal which was parried out by Brazil goalkeeper Andreia.
The South Americans responded and dictated the tempo thereafter, with Renata Costa, a goalscorer in Brazil’s first match of the tournament against Cameroon, firing over when well placed in the Japanese six-yard box after 16 minutes.
Four minutes later, Formiga tested the reflexes of Japan keeper Miho Fukumoto with a thunderous effort from distance which had to be tipped over the crossbar, giving Brazil the latest in a succession of corner-kicks.
The Asian side then came alive, however, and could have broken the deadlock midway through the period. Homare Sawa released Ogimi, whose cross found Ohno. The forward’s first attempt was blocked and her second sailed too high.
Japan would not have to wait long for a goal. Another incisive through ball from Sawa allowed Ogimi to run clear of the Brazilian defence and the Turbine Potsdam forward kept her composure to slide a cool finish past Andreia.
Needing an equaliser to earn a foothold in the match, Brazil spent much of the second period camped in Japan’s half while their opponents tried to use the pace of their forwards on the counter-attack.
Five-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Marta sent a whistling free-kick wide of Fukumoto’s post on the hour mark before Cristiane was found free in the penalty area from a Rosana cross but could not keep her header down.
Brazil’s spirit was crushed in the 73rd minute when the Japanese gameplan came to fruition. Retrieving the ball on the left wing, Ogimi found strike partner Ohno beyond the Brazil defence. Ohno took a touch, worked a yard of space and curled a shot beyond Andreia to finish the contest.