Japan took the lead after 16 minutes through talisman Keisuke Honda. The midfielder collected the ball on the edge of the box after a corner kick, and what he did next was superb.
The 28-year-old AC Milan star moved the ball onto his left side by beating Manchester City midfielder Yaya Toure with a great first touch, and then with very little back lift, fired into the top left corner, leaving Ivory Coast goalkeeper Boubacar Barry with no chance.
However, Ivory Coast, for whom Chelsea legend Didier Drogba did not start, were on top of Japan for most of the half without really testing their organised opponents.
Moments after Drogba come on, Ivory Coast’s pressure told on 64 minutes when a great cross from Serge Aurier was met by Swansea striker Bony, who brilliantly glanced his header inside the far corner.
It only took the African side two minutes to take the lead after equalising. Aurier again provided with a superb cross, and this time it was met by Gervinho, who forced the ball inside the near post. However, Japan goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima will feel that he could do better as the ball went under his body.
Ivory Coast now face Colombia on Thursday, while Japan play Greece in Natal.