Goals from Caio, Shoma Doi and Yasushi Endo made short work of Sanfrecce to send Kashima ahead of Vissel and Sagan Tosu on goal difference, after a brace for Uruguay striker Forlan halted Vissel's run of four straight wins.
Vissel striker Pedro Junior opened the scoring in the 41st minute before Forlan put Cerezo in front with two goals in the space of eight second-half minutes, but Marquinhos salvaged a point for promoted Vissel from the penalty spot 12 minutes from time.
"It was a game we deserved to win, so everyone is frustrated," said the 34-year-old Forlan, who has now scored five league goals since joining Cerezo from Brazil's Internacional at the start of the season. "That's not to say that we were the better team, but we made a lot of dangerous chances. If we keep playing and attacking like this, we'll start winning and climbing the table."
Unfashionable Sagan pulled level on points with Antlers and Vissel after a 3-2 win over Nagoya Grampus. Hiroyuki Taniguchi scored the winner in the 93rd minute to give Sagan their third straight victory, while Urawa Red Diamonds missed the chance to take over at the top after conceding three minutes into injury time to lose 3-2 to Kashiwa Reysol.
Kawasaki Frontale also scored a late winner as Yoshito Okubo struck in the 92nd minute to claim a 2-1 victory over Gamba Osaka. Shimizu S-Pulse edged Vegalta Sendai 1-0 and Albirex Niigata eased past Tokushima Vortis 2-1 as both teams moved higher into the upper echelons of the table. FC Tokyo beat Yokohama F Marinos 1-0 thanks to Keigo Higashi's seventh-minute goal, while in the day's other game, Ventforet Kofu beat Omiya Ardija 2-0