Thousands of people gathered at sports bars and stadiums across the Land of the Rising Sun to watch the match in Recife live on television on a late Sunday morning in Japan.

"It seemed Drogba did us in all by himself," former Japan coach Takeshi Okada, who guided the Asian champions to the last-16 round at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, commented in the Brazilian city on public broadcaster NHK.

"Now it will take a tremendous amount of energy to carry on our tough job," said the scholarly 57-year-old. "We must accept the result as something which Japanese football needed. We must take it as a trial which must be overcome."

AC Milan midfielder Keisuke Honda, who scored twice at South Africa 2010, opened the account in the 16th minute.

But the Elephants roared to life after Drogba was sent in at the 62nd minute, with Wilfried Bony and Gervinho scoring in the 64th and 66th minutes.

"Drogba's arrival turned the tide," an NHK announcer said.

"Two nightmare minutes!" tweeted the SKyPerfect TV network as social networks were swamped with thousands of messages lamenting the Samurai's defeat.

"What a devastating way to lose! It really hurts to lose a World Cup opener. We must forget all about it and keep on attacking," tweeted one Yosuke Miyake.

At the Tokyo Dome ballpark, some 35,000 people watching the match on huge stadium screens cheered their team on.

"I believed for the first 60 minutes that Japan would win," Hiroshi Tsujita told AFP at the stadium. "It ended in such a disappointing way."

He was keeping the faith, however. "I believe they will definitely win the next two matches."

Japan will face Greece on June 19 in Natal, and Colombia on June 24 in Cuiaba.

At the Saitama Stadium in Tokyo's northern suburbs, home to the J-League side Urawa Reds, one young woman told HNK: "We will be alright next time. I believe, so 'gambare' (hang in there)!"

About 800 police guarded a zebra crossing in front of the main station in Shibuya, one of Tokyo's shopping and entertainment hubs, as football fans bundled out of sports bars.

Many fans, clad in replica Blue Samurai shirts, were seen exchanging high-fives despite Japan's loss.

"It was a very tough defeat," Japan captain Makoto Hasebe told NHK. "We lost without expressing our style of football on this pitch.

"But we have two more group matches and we have no choice but to regroup now."