Leaders Vegalta Sendai needed Shingo Akamine's 78th-minute goal to earn a 1-1 draw at second from bottom Gamba Osaka, who took the lead through Shu Kurata's 62nd-minute goal.
Second-placed Shimizu S-Pulse missed out on the chance to join the leaders on 24 points as they too were held to a 1-1 draw, by Cerezo Osaka.
It would have been worse for Shimizu but for Alex Brosque's last-minute equaliser, which cancelled out Yoichiro Kakitani's 15th-minute opener for visitors.
Third-placed Sanfrecce Hiroshima threw away an early lead as they went down 3-1 at home to Yokohama F Marinos.
Toshihiro Aoyama gave the home side a sixth-minute lead but Marcos Marquinhos levelled before half-time and goals inside the last 23 minutes from Manabu Saito and Seitaro Tomisawa won it for the visitors.
And Urawa Red Diamonds, who started the day fourth, could only manage a 1-1 draw with Albirex Niigata. Marcio Richardes had them ahead in the 11th minute Bruno Lopes got Niigata a point with a 29th-minute breakthrough.
Jubilo Iwata and FC Tokyo took advantage of the slips. Jubilo beat Kashima Antlers 3-0 with goals from Ryoichi Maeda (10), Takuya Matsuura (84) and Hiroki Yamada (90), while Yohei Kajiyama's first-minute effort gave FC Tokyo all three points at Consadole Sapporo.
Elsewhere, Yu Hasegawa's 90th-minute own goal earned Sagan Tosu a home point against Omiya Ardija, who had taken the lead only eight minutes previously through Takuya Aoki.
Second-half goals from Masato Kudo and Jorge Wagner gave Kashiwa Reysol a welcome 2-0 win at Kawasaki Frontale, while Keiji Tamada's 42nd-minute goal won it for Nagoya Grampus Eight at Vissel Kobe.