Japan took on North Korea in the group stage of men's team table tennis Friday at the Asian Games, where Pyongyang has ended its isolation from the global sporting arena since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
A total of 191 North Korean athletes have signed up for Asia's version of the Olympics, with some events having already begun prior to Saturday's opening ceremony in Hangzhou, China.
Japan defeated North Korea 3-0 in their best-of-five tie on table tennis' opening day at Gongshu Canal Sports Park Gymnasium.
Maharu Yoshimura outlasted Ham Yu Song 11-6, 15-13, 3-11, 9-11, 11-3 before world No. 4 Tomokazu Harimoto trounced Ri Jong Sik 11-5, 11-5, 11-4 for a 2-0 lead.
Shunsuke Togami was also taken to a decisive fifth game but saw off An Ji Song 11-8, 11-7, 7-11, 9-11, 11-6.
Japan had beaten Nepal 3-0 earlier and finished Group B play with two wins out of two.
"Maharu-san gave our team the much-needed momentum by winning a close match against their ace," Harimoto said. "I don't remember playing a North Korean player. All three of their players have great footwork and strong forehands. We entered this tie with caution."
"We only had their match video from four or five years ago, so we didn't know how they would play. But at the same time, this is their first international competition in a while, so we were on an equal basis."
On the women's side, Taiwan and North Korea played one of the most exciting ties of table tennis' opening day, with North Korea prevailing 3-2.
All members of the North Korean team walked through the mixed zone without speaking to reporters, Taiwan's players talked about their bitter defeat.
"We had a chance to win, but it just can't be helped. We made a good start overall," said Taiwan's Cheng I-ching, who won two matches against North Korea. "It was difficult to play North Korean players. We didn't know how they would play."