First-half goals from Takuma Nishimura and Elber gave defending champions Yokohama F Marinos a 2-1 win over runners-up Kawasaki Frontale as the J-League's 30th-anniversary season kicked off Friday.
Toru Oniki's side pulled one back through Kento Tachibanada late in the Kanagawa Derby, but they were otherwise unable to convert the lion's share of possession into goals.
Played in front of a packed crowd of 22,563 at Todoroki Stadium in Kawasaki, the season opener featured the winners of the past six J-League first-division titles, who finished last year separated by just two points.
Both sets of fans were in full voice, albeit behind facemasks, after the league lifted a moratorium on singing and chanting aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
Kevin Muscat's men took the lead after capitalizing on a costly blunder by Kawasaki keeper Jung Sung Ryong in the fourth minute. The South Korean misdirected a clearance straight to the head of Elber, whose lofted ball enabled Nishimura to gently side-foot past Jung as he rushed back to his line.
"We won back possession in the area we were aiming for, and it worked out well," said Nishimura, who also scored along with Elber in last Saturday's 2-1 Super Cup win over second-division Ventforet Kofu.
The hosts had chances to hit back in the opening half, but Daiya Tono could not beat Marinos keeper Powell Obinna Obi one on one, while Taisei Miyashiro later rattled the woodwork from the edge of the area.
Elber made it 2-0 in the 38th minute, acrobatically flicking into the net after Anderson Lopes headed Katsuya Nagato's corner kick down into the six-yard box.
Frontale had the run of play for much of the second half but continued to be hamstrung by their lack of a finishing touch.
They were reduced to 10 men when Jesiel was marched in the 87th minute for a bad challenge on Marcos Junior that was downgraded from a penalty to a free kick outside the box after a review by the video assistant referee.
Tachibanada tapped home off Asahi Sasaki's cross in the 91st minute as Marinos' defense failed to deal with a counter in spite of their numerical advantage.
Despite ruing the late lapse, an overall satisfied Muscat praised his team for their mentality and disciplined play.
"To come away from home to an intimidating atmosphere, to perform and take the game to the opponent, was fantastic," he said. "It's a good start, but we have to recover tomorrow and prepare for the next game."