Multiple Olympic gold medallist Kosuke Kitajima again suffered disappointment at the Asian Games in Guangzhou on Monday after the Japanese could only finish fourth in his favoured 100m breaststroke.
The 28-year-old seemed clearly out of sorts after a hiatus from competition last year, trailing winning compatriot Ryo Tateishi and Kazakhstan's Vladislav Polyakov for the entire race and was pipped for bronze by China's Wang Shuai.
Kitajima also finished a disappointing fourth in the 50m breaststroke earlier in the Games.
"I knew after my turn I wouldn't win the race. Although I swam faster in the morning, I didn't swim fast enough," he said.
China once again showed their strength by clinching five golds out of seven on the third day of competition.
In the men's 50m freestyle, China's Lu Zhiwu thrashed down the pool to edge out Japan's Masayuki Kishida in a tight race to take gold in 22.37 seconds. Rammaru Harada of Japan took bronze.
"I knew I fell behind the swimmers during the race," said Kishida. "The Chinese swimmers are very strong at the right time, it's hard to beat them."
On a balmy evening inside the packed Aoti Aquatics centre with the Chinese national anthem being played repeatedly, China's Gao Chang took gold with a confident swim in the women's 50m backstroke, easily fending off Japan's Aya Terakawa who trailed 0.41 seconds behind her.
"My time here is the best in the world right now, so I'm very happy with my swim," said Gao.
Chinese pair Shao Yiwen and Liu Jing pulled ahead early in the 400m women's freestyle and never looked back to power home for a gold and silver double, while South Korea's Seo Younjeong came a distant third.
In the 200m women's butterfly Olympic silver medallist Jiao Liuyang powered home with a time of 2:05:79 for her third gold of the Games, drawing roars from the home crowd. Natsumi Hoshi of Japan won silver and Choi Hye Ra of South Korea got bronze.
In a second bright spot for Japan, however, defending Asian Games gold medallist Ryosuke Irie cruised to gold in the men's 200m backstroke in a time of 1:55:45.
With three days of competition left in swimming, China have won 14 swimming golds compared with Japan's four.